The Norwegian government wants to ban online snus sales as part of a new tobacco strategy. But experts warn the measure may be counterproductive for efforts to reduce smoking rates.
Norway’s new tobacco strategy was included in a sweeping public health report released on March 31.
“Our vision is a tobacco-free generation, and we want to make ensure children born in 2010 and later are given that opportunity,” said Norwegian health minister Ingvild Kjerkol in a statement.
More restrictions on smoking
Several of the measures included in the new strategy take specific aim at smoking, including proposals to ban smoking in cars where children are passengers and in outdoor areas where children may be present, such as playgrounds, athletic facilities, bus stops, and common spaces in apartment buildings.
“Many of these restrictions on smoking are similar to those previously introduced in Sweden that have likely contributed to people quitting cigarettes,” says Patrik Strömer, Secretary General of the Association of Swedish Snus Manufacturers.
“However, the success of such measures in Sweden depended on having smoke-free alternatives like snus and nicotine pouches readily available.”
Ban on online snus sales ‘inconsistent’
Strömer sees the proposed online snus sales ban as “inconsistent” with the other anti-smoking measures included in the tobacco strategy if Norway is interested in reducing smoking rates.
“If the goal is to reduce the harm caused by combustible tobacco, it’s important to provide alternative nicotine products with a lower risk profile for those consumers who want to switch,” he says.
“But banning online sales of snus and vaping products restricts access to those alternatives, which may make it harder for smokers to choose a nicotine product that is less harmful to their health than deadly cigarettes.”
The tobacco strategy aims to ban online sales of snus and vaping products as well as a ban on flavoured vaping products. The strategy stops short of calling for a ban on flavoured snus and nicotine pouches, however.
The primary aim of the sales and flavour restrictions is to prevent sales to minors and restrict access to flavoured products that health authorities fear are more attractive to minors.
“Experience from other countries shows that such products can quickly gain appeal among children and young people,” the report says.
Norway should explore more ‘precise’ measures
Strömer agrees that minors shouldn’t have access to or use nicotine products of any kind, but that blunt measures like outright bans might have unintended consequences that reverse Norway’s recent advances toward becoming a smoke-free country.
“The data clearly shows that snus and nicotine pouches are replacing cigarettes in Norway, which is a fantastic public health gain – it would be a shame if ill-advised policies slowed that trend,” he explains.
“I would encourage policymakers to consider more precise instruments like age verification and tougher age restriction enforcement at the point of sale that don’t won’t make it harder for adult smokers to switch to less-harmful alternatives.”