EU upholds ban on Swedish snus

The European Court of Justice ruled on Tuesday that an EU ban on the sale of snus - Swedish snuff tobacco - should remain in force.

Noting the risk that young people would become addicted to nicotine if they begin to use snus, the Court said that its decision was motivated by a desire to protect the health of European citizens.

The decision is a major blow to snus manufacturer Swedish Match, which had been hoping to capitalise on increasingly restrictive smoking regulations in the EU.

“Today’s ruling is, of course, a disappointment to us.” said Bo Aulin, the chief counsel at Swedish Match.

Sounding more like a public health evangelist than a lawyer for a tobacco company, Aulin said that this was “a sad day for the millions of European cigarette smokers who will continue to smoke their cigarettes in the absence of a better and viable alternative”.

“Snus could play an important role in a much more responsible harm reduction strategy than the current cynical Quit or Die approach,” he added.

Snus represents around a quarter of Swedish Match’s 13 billion crown annual sales in 140 countries. By 11am the company’s share price had fallen by 1.3%, although Bo Aulin said that he was not surprised by the decision.

“Unfortunately it seems the Court has chosen to deliver a political rather than legal judgement. This does not improve the reputation of the European Union in Sweden.”

Actually it probably won’t make any difference, since Sweden is the one place in Europe where you can buy snus, following an exemption negotiated by the Swedish government on joining the EU in 1995.

There are said to be a million snussing Swedes taking advantage of that exemption, and in his statement, Bo Aulin chose to play the yellow and blue card.

“The Swedish government has stood by us in our legal challenge,” he said. “The government must continue to take its responsibility in the political process and play an active role to remove the current ban, which is discriminatory to a Swedish manufacturer, but also to Sweden as a member state and to a million Swedish consumers.”

Unfortunately, Aulin’s patriotism was completely undermined by a report in Svenska Dagbladet on Tuesday announcing that unless the Swedish government changed its tax on tobacco exports, Swedish Match would redirect its investment abroad.

Currently, tobacco products are taxed by both the Swedish government and by the country in which the they are sold. Swedish Match considers that to be unfair.

“In the near future we’ll be forced – if these particular rules aren’t removed – to move new investment to other EU countries,” said Ulf Svensson, the company’s information director.

According to SvD, the company has already planned its investment in Holland and is developing a range of new products for sale in the EU “whether or not the ban is lifted”.

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet