“Swedish Snus in the EU – The campaign to end the ban”
Since June 2017, Northerner.com stopped selling Swedish snus to the EU, in the wake of a court case that confirmed the ban on all sales of Snus to the EU. Swedish snus has in fact, been banned for sale in EU since 1992, with an exception for sales in Sweden. In 2017 a court case that was brought against one of our competitors clarified that all sales of Snus to other EU countries were banned, even for companies based in Sweden.
The ban is now in the hands of the Court of Justice (ECJ), and on April 12th we will know if the law will be revoked or not.
Bengt Wiberg, the founder of Sting Free Snus and #EUforsnus is deeply involved in the process and have been fighting for the right of using snus in EU countries for several months. Here’s an interview with him, explaining the current situation and his campaign to change it.
Let’s start with the question everyone is asking themselves, why is it not legal to buy/sell snus to the EU?
It’s a long story involving a US smokeless tobacco product aggressive marketing towards youth in the UK in the beginning of the 90’s. Scotland protested and got the European Union to ban snus completely in 1992 in all member states.
When Sweden applied for membership in 1995 we insisted on a permanent exception from the snus ban for Sweden and we got it. Since the exception is permanent and written in the accession treaty to the EU, there is no possibility to change that fact unless 100 % of all EU members, including Sweden, vote for a change. Therefore, it is astonishing to read what Sweden’s minister of trade, Ann Linde, expressed in a Göteborgsposten (a major Swedish newspaper) interview, where she defends the reason why the Swedish government did not in any way support Swedish snus in the ECJ court case on removing the snus ban in EU. Her reply was “…because then we can’t be certain that we will be allowed to keep the derogation for snus. I refuse to engage in any action that may put Swedes right to use snus at risk.”
Why is this not true? Because Sweden’s right to snus is written in the EU accession treaty that can only be modified if all EU countries, including Sweden, agree to change it.
In the present EU Tobacco Directive implemented in 2016, the novel nicotine product E-cigarettes was approved while snus remained banned.
Can you give us a summary of the first trial in Luxembourg that you participated in this January?
I became involved in the consumer charity organization New Nicotine Alliance’s (NNA) challenge of the EU’s ban on snus a year ago. NNA is a court approved intervenor supporting Swedish Match fight for allowing snus in EU in court. NNA’s campaign shows that any group of consumers in the world can make a difference. Indeed, it was NNA’s upcoming hearing in the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in January 2018 that inspired me to set up a social media campaign #EUforsnus a few weeks earlier with the help of German friend and fellow snus enthusiast, Uwe Hille of Snusfreak.com.
So, on January 24, the day before the snus trial hearing, Me and Uwe travelled to Luxembourg and met up with the representatives from NNA including its chairman Professor Gerry Stimson. NNA also had world renowned scientists Doctor Lars Ramström, of the Institute for Tobacco Studies, and Doctor Karl Erik Lund, Senior researcher of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health in place in Luxembourg. Both of them supporting the end of the EU snus ban due to the big public health aspects. Swedish Match also had the good company of several famous scientists during the trial hearing.
The court hearing took some 4.5 hours and was fascinating. Months before the trial hearing, parties of the trial had submitted written statements of evidence and arguments that each party since had the availability to study. So did the judges of ECJ. At the court hearing each party got 15 minutes to verbally present their position. The parties were the EU Commission, EU Council, EU Parliament, the Norwegian and United Kingdom state representatives, Swedish Match and NNA. Since major new scientific evidence had showed up after submitting the original documents submitted to court, Swedish Match as well as NNA brought up the Global Burden of Disease Study published in the international journal The Lancet in September 2017. The scientific meta-study is one of the biggest ever conducted and covering many years of scientific data. A meta-analysis is a statistical analysis that combines the results of multiple scientific studies.
The study concluded that snus and snuff (nasal snuff) have 0 % increased risk for any health outcome, including all forms of cancers, as compared to people not using snus at all.
After that the seven judges of the ECJ put questions to some of the parties. The judges were particularly razor sharp addressing the EU organizations legal representatives. One judge noted that there was a big discrepancy in the conclusions in the evidence offered by the EU institutions and the expert witnesses, and asked the EU Commission: “Should the Court conclude that you blend together evidence to find a solution more appropriate policy wise that accords with your view?” Another judge asked whether it might be politically difficult to lift the ban and asked whether that had colored the judgement of the institutions with regards to the scientific evidence. One judge questioned whether the institutions were supporting the ban because snus is harmful and addictive or because of a wish to ban nicotine. A judge proposed that snus could be sold in pharmacies only.
The trial hearing was all in all filled with non-factual arguments from the opponents of removing the snus ban. I personally filled about 25 handwritten pages of notes and caught several outright lies from the institutions. The legal counsel for the European Parliament told the court that these dramatic falls in male smoking had nothing to do with snus (!). It was instead the result of “healthy living.” Meanwhile the European Council argued that “high levels of parental leave for men” in Sweden were reducing smoking as it meant men could not smoke as they were with their children. These remarks have never heard of before and totally lack scientific evidence. My thoughts went to the latest Försäkringskassan public statistics that shows that 75 % of Swedish children’s parental leave is utilized by the female parents. Another fact is that Swedish parental leave can be distributed, according to the parents’ wishes, during the child’s first 12 years i.e. from 0-12 years. The statement that Swedish men’s “healthy living style” is a major reason why they have almost gone smoke-free, and not snus, is not only untrue but also an insult to Swedish women. All this nonsense while scientists say “absolutely no doubt” that snus is a key factor in the fall in smoking.
Many experts, me included, who participated in the court judge that the chance that the court will abandon the snus ban in the EU is fair. NNA found in their arguments that “the right to health” and to be able to choose … is a human right protected both by the World Health Organization (WHO) and EU law. Another argument rightfully used by Swedish Match is that the snus ban is disproportionate because Swedish snus is basically the only product containing nicotine, which cannot be sold in the EU.
The #EUforsnus campaign is now present on Euforsnus.org, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn, Bengt says. The campaign on Facebook alone has close to 2 600 members from 90 countries, 44 per cent of these are women, and 68 per cent are 34 years old or younger. I think the younger generation doesn’t flatly fall for tobacco control’s blunt attempts to brand snus as dangerous.
Gerry Stimson and Bengt Wiberg at ECJ 25 Jan 2018 photo by Uwe Hille of Snusfreak.com
What will happen on April 12th?
On the 12th of April the European Court of Justice (ECJ) Advocate General, Henrik Øe will announce his preliminary decision on the question about ending the snus ban in EU. Henrik Øe is a highly experienced Danish lawyer, prosecutor, human rights head and former consumer ombudsman.
The Advocate General has the highest juridical responsibility in the court case of the snus. He has a huge responsibility on his shoulders since there are about 100 million smokers of cigarettes in EU today that are discriminated from using snus. There are also several hundred thousand of snus lovers already in EU who are forbidden to access the … smokeless tobacco product of snus.
The final decision from the court will be made sometime during the period June-October 2018.
I have been asked “what happens” if the ECJ decide to end the snus ban in EU. According to a very experienced lawyer I talked to in Luxembourg, I’m not at liberty to say his name at this moment, it means the law on the ban will cease to exist. It would be removed from the EU Tobacco directive all together, as I understand it. This means that no EU membership state can forbid its citizens to buy Swedish snus online- or in any other way. This taking effect immediately and including all EU countries at the same time.
About Bengt Wiberg
Bengt Wiberg is a 60-year-old MBA and the inventor of Sting Free Snus. A brand-new design of the snus portion bag itself, adding a protective side that does not sting/burn or irritate the gums and oral mucosa. Last year, the invention became patent-approved in Sweden and now it is also patented applied for in the United States and in the rest of Europe.
In September 2017, Sting Free Snus won the awards “Most exciting newcomer to the industry” and the “Golden Leaf Award” at the Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum in New York City.
The sting-free snus has also attracted a lot of media attention in the last year in many big Swedish- and International newspapers like Aftonbladet and Tobacco Reporter. Swedish Match has signed a licensing agreement for producing sting-free varieties of snus, but do not have exclusive rights, so more manufacturers are expected to follow.