Sweden’s inaction on snus in Brussels ‘unethical’

The independent Snus Commission has taken the Swedish government to task for its inaction on snus in Brussels and failure to inform the EU about the public health benefits of snus. 

A more proactive approach could have helped remove the EU’s ban on snus, the group argues in a new debate article.

“If Sweden had become politically involved when the snus issue was last raised in the European Court of Justice in 2018, the matter could have been settled,” they write in an article published in the Altinget newspaper.

The sale of Swedish snus has been banned in the EU (formerly EC) since 1992. However, Sweden was granted an exception from the ban when it joined the EU on 1 January 1995.

The historical reason for the ban was that snus was previously thought to be carcinogenic and a gateway to smoking.

“Today, we know that snus is not carcinogenic. And we know that the most relevant perspective is how to encourage people to switch from cigarettes to snus, not the risk of the opposite,” the commission writes.

Sweden has done too little

The Snus Commission, an independent commission that produces reports about Swedish snus. The opinion piece is authored by Snus Commission chairman Anders Milton, together with three other members, Kinna Bellander, Karl Fagerström, and Göran Johansson.

They argue that Sweden has also done too little to inform other EU countries about the public health effects of snus.

This in turn had left the snus ban in place while the matter was fought in court, thus denying citizens in other EU countries access to a a less harmful alternative to carcinogenic cigarettes.

“Sweden’s political representatives don’t seem to want to ask the question: ‘Why shouldn’t Sweden’s pattern of tobacco consumption — more snus and less cigarettes — be allowed in the EU when WHO figures show it would save more than 350,000 human lives per year across the union?’” the Snus Commission writes.

The group also notes that it was illogical for the EU to approve of e-cigarettes, despite the fact that there is not as much research on how that product affects health as there is on snus.

Apply the harm reduction principle

“In Sweden, we are happy to have Europe’s lowest tobacco-related mortality. But we do not seem to want to think about why this is the case, despite the fact that we consume tobacco at levels comparable with other EU countries,” they write.

“The reason is, of course, that we use more snus and smoke less. But if we say this, it’s almost unethical to then not to actively push in the EU to lift the ban on snus sales.”

Patrik Strömer, head of the Association of Swedish Snus Manufacturers, agrees with the Snus Commission’s conclusions.

“Sweden can, and should, do much, much more to make other EU member states realise the health benefits that can be achieved by applying the principle of harm reduction in practice,” he says. 

“There are individual Swedish EU politicians who have pushed the issue of snus in Brussels, but Sweden must take a more active and collective role in this. Human lives are at stake.”