Snus snub for Sweden at EU court

The EU court in Luxemburg has dealt a blow to Swedish national pride, balance of trade figures, and, depending on who you believe, European public health. On Tuesday, the court's lawyers recommended that the ban on snus (a Swedish form of snuff tobacco inserted under the top lip) introduced in 1992 should stay in place.

Wednesday’s GP reported that the statement only represented a recommendation, but that it was unlikely that the court would deviate in its final ruling later this year.

It’s a major blow for snus giant, Swedish Match. They had been eyeing new markets such as Britain and Germany as smoking regulations across Europe become increasingly restrictive.

The lawyer leading the investigation, Leendert Geelhoeds, gave two reasons for maintaining the ban: it prevents tobacco use spreading to new groups; and it’s the only way to protect the health of citizens.

The second of these reasons was the real twist of the knife. Only last week, Sweden was taken to task by EU Commissioner Frits Bolkestein over its restrictive alcohol policies. Apparently, then it was the free market which was more important than public health.

Christofer Fjellner, recently elected Moderate member of the EU parliament and proud ‘snuser’, disputed the health argument.

“An American study shows that 200,000 lives could be saved in Europe if snus was allowed,” he said.

Fjellner, who brought a thousand crowns worth of snus to Brussels in what was perhaps a misguided attempt to win over his new colleagues, was critical of the Swedish government.

“Parliament was unanimous in demanding an end to the snus ban, but Swedish Match have been left to fight Sweden’s cause at the EU court alone.”

Another Moderate EU parliamentarian, Gunnar Hökmark, was incandescant at the court’s announcement and accused the EU of hypocrisy. He fumed in Thursday’s GP:

“The EU bans tobacco advertising and runs anti-smoking campaigns, but at the same time pays nine billion crowns in support to southern Europe to produce 350,000 tons of tobacco.” He demanded an immediate end to these subsidies.

Publicly at least, Swedish Match, do not share the all-consuming pessimism. Company secretary, Bo Aulin, said:

“The court can follow [Geelhoed’s] recommendations to the full, or in part. Or they can reverse them. We’re waiting for the final ruling.”

Even if they fail in their bid to export to the EU, their plans to expand their operations to Russia and Asia will offer some consolation.

For those of you wondering, Sweden craftily negotiated themselves an exemption from the snus ban when they joined the EU in 1995. The current investigation will not affect this. Swedish snus can be bought legally in Norway – and illegally in Denmark and Finland.

Sources: Göteborgs Posten