What’s in Sweden’s new tobacco bill?

Patrik Strömer, General Secretary of the Association of Swedish Snus Manufacturers, takes a closer look at Sweden’s latest tobacco bill.

In the proposal for a new tobacco law presented by Sweden’s health minister Annika Strandhäll, the government has so far highlighted the ban on smoking outdoors. But the government’s proposal contains several other proposals that will also affect snus, or to be more accurate the sale of snus. 

What is positive in the government’s proposal is the fact that snus will continue in future to be classified as a foodstuff. That Swedish snus has the world’s toughest thresholds for potentially dangerous substances means that it is also the tobacco product with the world’s lowest adverse health effects. 

Another good thing is that snus — as it always has been — can continue to be flavoured. In addition, it can state on the box if there is a distinct additional flavour. This means that snus users who either want or want to avoid a certain flavour can quickly and simply get the relevant information. 

These proposals are interesting because the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) otherwise bans the addition of extra flavours to cigarettes. But because snus is forbidden in the EU, Sweden alone can decide how to regulate snus. 

The government’s bill will also make it impossible to blame EU requirements when it comes to the production and sale of snus in Sweden. 

The self-service ban

What no one from the government has wanted to talk about is that the proposal will ban snus users from taking a box out of the fridge, placing it on the counter, and buying it. Shops selling snus on the internet will also not being able to show certain pictures of the products. 

According to Strandhäll  sites such as Snusbolaget can only show pictures if they apply for a publication license. But why should a politician make a law at the same time as saying that it can make exceptions? A simple, ordinary voter would probably see it as a case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. 

Four out of ten shops today have a snus fridge next to the counter. Annika Strandhäll wants to decide that snus should be stored behind the counter instead. Responsible adult consumers will have to ask for their box of snus. They are considered incapable of taking one out of the fridge themselves without being overtaken by an irresistible desire to buy more snus. The state’s faith in its citizens has thereby been reduced another notch. 

The proposed ban on self-service has no basis whatsoever in facts, science, or empirical evidence. It will not affect people’s health in a positive way, or lead to any social improvement — quite the opposite. 

Poorly targeted and moralistic 

Even ignoring the cost of unnecessary rebuilding which will affect nearly half of the shops which sell snus, the experience of Norway shows that revenues in the smallest shops will be affected most. Petrol stations and shops in the countryside and suburbs could see their combined revenues fall by around 350 million kronor a year, which is considerably more than the combined state support for struggling rural areas that several political parties are pushing for. Politicians are giving with one hand and taking away with another. 

Annika Strandhäll has taken over a poorly targeted and moralistic ANDT strategy from her predecessor Maria Larsson (KD) och Gabriel Wikström (S), one which says that simply “all tobacco use should be reduced”. A smarter government would have formulated it as “the harm from the use of tobacco should be reduced”, and would thereby have been able to distinguish between snus and cigarettes.  

There is not one concrete proposal that is truly about protecting people’s health, and there is actually not much about snus either. The proposal is based for some inexplicable reason on the idea of making it harder for shops and other sellers to offer consumers something they want, without giving any demonstrable reason. All the government can really expect to gain from this is frustration and extra costs for consumers. 

Leave snus users in peace 

Anyone truly interested in people’s health, and not content with slogans and wishful thinking, can see easily that it is smoking that affects health negatively, and for all too many people, both users and those around them. 

And for those who can see that it is smoking that is the problem, it only takes a quick look at international statistics to see that in countries like Sweden and Norway where snus is legal, the number of smokers in the population is far lower than in other comparable countries. 

Put simply, attacking the product that has led to fewer smokers is unlikely to be the best way of reducing damage from smoking. 

The truth is that the group of adults in Sweden where smoking is least common is men between the ages of 33 and 44 years old. Of those men, 22 percent use snus, so it appears that it is thanks to snus that smoking is below the WHO goal of 5 percent. We’re not asking for any thanks for our efforts, but instead for some recognition. We just want politicians to leave snus in peace.

Parliament must vote against this damaging bill from the government. 

Patrik Strömer, General Secretary of the Association of Swedish Snus Manufacturers