Snus and the Art of Suppression: Part 2 – The EU ban

Why is snus banned in the European Union? How did it happen? Snusforumet, in partnership with author and commentator Christopher Snowdon, brings you the inside story behind one of the EU’s more confounding policies.

For the next several weeks, Snusforumet is publishing excerpts from the story behind the EU snus ban as written in The Art of Suppression: Pleasure, Panic and Prohibition since 1800, a 2011 book written by Christopher Snowdon.

However, Snusforumet subscribers get instant access to the whole story. Click here to subscribe to Snusforumet and get the entire chapter on snus from The Art of Suppression emailed straight to your inbox.

Part 2 – The EU ban

The Oral Snuff (Safety) Regulations had a profound effect on the UK’s one and only manufacturer of oral snuff—US Tobacco Inc.—which found itself criminalised and sent home by the same government that had subsidised and courted it just four years earlier. Having appealed against the new law, the company won a judicial review in December 1990 on the basis that the government had failed to disclose the scientific evidence on which the prohibition hinged. This, however, gave oral snuff only a brief stay of execution before the European Commission took the matter into its own hands.

With Skoal Bandits banned in Ireland and with the UK making every effort to follow suit, the European Economic Community (EEC) decided that such unilateral action by member states posed a threat to its internal market. Only by banning oral snuff across the board could the desired level of harmonisation be achieved. On 15 May 1992, Council Directive 92/41/EEC announced that “the only appropriate
measure is a total ban” on “new tobacco products for oral use.”

Once again, oral cancer was cited as the threat to public health that justified banning these niche products. According to the Directive, Skoal Bandits and the like had “particularly large quantities of carcinogenic substances” which “cause cancer of the mouth in particular.” In addition to banning “new” smokeless products, the Directive instructed the tobacco industry to add the unambiguous warning ‘Causes Cancer ’to its range of “traditional” (and therefore still legal) smokeless products.

The 1992 ban was transparently aimed at US Tobacco Inc. and their Skoal Bandits. The European Commission made no attempt to explain why traditional oral tobacco products were exempt from the ban, let alone why the more deadly, and vastly more popular, smoked products should go untouched.

Widely perceived as purveyors of candy-flavoured carcinogens, few mourned the departure of US Tobacco Inc. from European shores. Few even noticed. Oral snuff was only consumed in any quantity in the Nordic countries and, of these, only Denmark was a member of the EEC.

Snus—which rhymes with ‘juice ’and simply means ‘snuff ’in Swedish—had been used for two hundred years in Sweden and had inspired the creation of Skoal Bandits in the first place; both products consisted of…

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