Sweden holds firm on EU snus fight

Sweden's government has pledged to continue to fight for the lifting of the EU-wide ban against moist snuff or 'snus', in the face of what it calls European "ignorance" of the smokeless tobacco product.

Sweden holds firm on EU snus fight

Sweden is the only country with an exemption for the sale and marketing of snus and the country has long battled for the EU wide ban to be lifted.

A recent survey of member state opinion conducted by the EU Commission indicates however that Sweden has little support among its European partners.

“Many people don’t know what snus is. This is also a result of the fact that there is a ban on the export of Swedish snus,” Swedish trade minister Ewa Björling told the TT news agency.

Björling has received the support of tobacco giant Swedish Match which argues that the greatest hindrance to lifting the ban is ignorance of the product itself.

“If the Commission would look at the scientific documentation concerning snus and if you follow EU principles regarding, for example, freedom of movement, then we find it very hard to see that the snus ban would survive,” said Patrik Hildingsson, information director at Swedish Match.

Sweden’s National Institute of Public Health (Folkhälsöinstitutet) warns however that scrapping the ban could affect both attitudes to snuff and increase the use of snus, a product that it argues offers only adverse health effects.

“Based on the knowledge that exists about health risks and dependence, we think it should be limited, but ultimately it is politicians who decide,” said Åsa Domeij, who heads the institute’s drug prevention unit.

Not all member states have responded to the survey conducted by the European Commission, but of those who have there is a clear majority in favour of a blanket ban on all types of smokeless tobacco.

This fact has however not given Ewa Björling cause to give up hope that Italians and other EU members will gain the right to buy snus in their home countries.

“This is not decided and we will continue to fight. I’m not going to give up because I think this ban is unfair,” she said.

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Illegal snus operations a growing problem in Sweden

Sweden’s status as the only country in the EU where snus is legal has created a growing underground manufacturing operation, broadcaster SVT reported on Saturday.

Illegal snus operations a growing problem in Sweden
More popular than cigarettes in Sweden, snus is a moist tobacco product either bought loose or in small parcels and placed under the lip. Its export to and sale within other EU countries is banned, and the EU has consistently opted to maintain that restriction, with Sweden granted an exception and allowed to sell the product within its borders.
But demand for snus beyond Sweden’s borders is growing. So too is the number of Swedish operations apparently willing to break the law to meet the demand by producing and selling snus in secret. According to SVT, some snus manufacturers skirt the export ban by running illegal snus sales alongside their legal activities. But the broadcaster said there is also a flourishing black market in which snus is sold under fake labels. 
“The knowledge is here since we have a long history of production. That makes Sweden a good starting point for the production of illegal snus,” Magnus Råsten of the Swedish Economic Crime Authority (Ekobrottsmyndigheten – EBM) told SVT. 
EBM has reported an uptick in illegal snus production in recent years, particularly in Gothenburg. But the agency does not have an overview of how much of the tobacco product is being manufactured and sold illegally. 
“Illegal manufacturing can in some cases be part of serious criminality but there are also manufacturers who are primarily engaged in legal activities,” Råsten said. “In contrast to drugs or weapons, it’s not as risky to get into the snus business because it is not illegal in Sweden. That also makes it harder for us to assess whether the activity is legal.” 
According to Råsten, much of the foreign demand for snus comes from Norway, Finland and Russia.
“There is a market that people want to reach,” he said. “When there is money to be made, criminality often follows.”