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Ban on Swedish snus still valid: EU Advocate General

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Ban on Swedish snus still valid: EU Advocate General
A tub of Swedish snus. Photo: Isabell Höjman/TT
11:54 CEST+02:00
An attempt by a Swedish snus producer to challenge legislation banning the sale of the oral tobacco product in the European Union has been dealt a blow after an EU Advocate General concluded that the restrictions are still valid.

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.

The Swedish favourite has made headlines in the UK in recent weeks after it emerged that it has become a popular product among Premier League footballers, with players for top clubs reportedly using the tobacco that is illegal to buy in England.

Snus producer Swedish Match unsuccessfully attempted to challenge the rules restricting sales and exports in 2004. It has since launched a challenge against UK laws preventing the sale of tobacco for oral use according the EU's 2014 Tobacco Directive, arguing that the EU legislature failed to "take into account development in scientific knowledge" on tobacco products since earlier rulings.

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Photo: Robert Henriksson/SvD/TT

The High Court of Justice for England and Wales asked the European Court of Justice to judge whether the prohibition of the product is valid, and in a new statement Advocate General Henrik Saugmandsgaard Øe recommends that the restrictions should continue.

"The EU legislature did not exceed the limits of its discretion in finding that tobacco for oral use is addictive and harmful to health in so far as it increases the risks of certain harmful effects and may increase the risks of other harmful effects," Saugmandsgaard Øe stated.

The Advocate General continued that studies subsequently challenging some of the data on which the legislature first made its conclusion are not "sufficient to call that conclusion into question".

Saugmandsgaard Øe also takes the position that the legislature did not exceed the limits of its discretion in concluding that lifting the prohibition on placing oral tobacco on the market could "result in an overall increase in the harmful effects of tobacco within the EU because of its effects on consumption patterns", through for example increasing the risk of later use of tobacco for smoking.

The Advocate General did not however take a position on the use of oral tobacco as an aid for giving up smoking, saying it has "not been established".

OPINION: 'The disgusting Swedish habit I can't stand'

Regarding claims that the principle of non-discrimination is infringed by tobacco for oral use receiving different treatment from other tobacco products, the Advocate General rejected that argument:

"Unlike tobacco for smoking, tobacco for oral use is a novelty, which is why its prohibition avoids the creation of a new source of addiction in view of the particular appeal it might have for young people."

Responding to the announcement of the Advocate General's position, Swedish Match said it was "disappointed".

"We are disappointed with the opinion and hope that the Court will come to a different conclusion in its final ruling," Swedish Match General Counsel Marie-Louise Heiman said.

The Advocate General is tasked with independently proposing a legal solution for cases to the European Court of Justice, and while opinions are not binding, they are generally agreed with. The European Court of Justice will now deliberate and deliver its opinion at a later date, expected to be in the second half of 2018.

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