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.”


EU ban ‘erases two-thirds of Swedish snuff’

The EU's new tobacco directive could threaten as much as 70 percent of existing sorts of snus on the market, snuff makers Swedish Match has warned.

EU ban 'erases two-thirds of Swedish snuff'

While the battle for Swedish snuff is not new, the National Food Agency (Livsmedelsverket) has now weighed into the debate by submitting its analysis of the suggested directive to the Swedish government.

“It is clear that many types of snus would be banned,” Food Agency inspector Christer Johansson told the TT news agency on Friday.

The European Commission has suggested that a panel of snus tasters rule whether a product has a clear enough “tobacco taste” to be allowed onto the market.

“It will be up to the panel to decided what a ‘clear taste’ is,” Johansson said.

The European Commission, meanwhile, has claimed that a ban on “non-tobacco” flavouring from tobacco products would knock out about ten percent of the Swedish snus sales.

Yet tobacco giant Swedish Match has said the directive could knock the air out of as much as 70 percent of its snus offering.

The peculiar Swedish snuff – inserted under the top lip by users – is sold in a variety of sizes, either prepacked in small pouches or loose. Aromas from licorice and spearmint to apple and eucalyptus have been added to the shelves in recent years. Vanilla, juniper and bergamot have also sneaked into the reportoire.

The lack of precision in a test panel’s subjective tasting has instilled fear and fostered irritation among snus makers.

“We think it could affect between 30 and 70 percent of our snus types,” said Swedish Match spokesman Patrik Hildingsson to TT. “That’s how big our uncertainty is.”

He dismissed the Commission’s analysis that the directive would deflate profits by ten percent. Hildingsson said it was comparing apples and oranges, as Swedish Match was not solely looking at sales income but the variety of their products. He also questioned the figure’s validity.

“That figures comes from one single analyst at one single bank,” Hildingsson said, further adding that a test panel would offer no guarantees of quality or consistency in its rulings.

“Surely there is no industry that wants that level of uncertainty?”

TT/The Local/at

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