Time to lift it
As the European Union (EU) legal apparatus awakens from its summer holiday slumber, snus enthusiasts are tuning in for news from Luxembourg. This fall, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) is expected to rule on the legality of the trading bloc’s longtime ban on snus. If the court decides against the law, it could have profound implications not only for snus but also for the overall cause of tobacco harm reduction.
Snus, as attentive readers of this periodical know, is a moist oral tobacco product with a loyal following in Scandinavia. In other European countries, the product barely registers among consumers due to different tobacco cultures and, more detrimentally, because the EU prohibits its manufacture and sale in all member states bar Sweden, where the product is tolerated on cultural grounds.
The ban has been a longtime source of frustration for snus manufacturers, who are denied entry into a major market, and proponents of tobacco harm reduction, who believe smokers in the EU should have access to less-unhealthy methods of consuming nicotine.
Snus is believed to be at least 95 percent less harmful than combustible tobacco. Unlike smoking, it presents no significant risk for emphysema, heart disease and stroke, for example. Researchers credit snus use with Sweden’s record-low smoking and lung cancer rates. If men in other EU states smoked at the rates of Swedish men, they say, hundreds of thousands of premature deaths could be prevented every year.
So, even though it is intended to protect public health, the EU snus ban could very well be promoting the opposite by keeping smokers smoking. That’s why Swedish Match, the world’s largest snus manufacturer, and the New Nicotine Alliance, a charitable organization promoting tobacco harm reduction, have challenged the ban in court.
The fact that the ECJ agreed to hear their arguments already represents a victory of sorts, but a positive outcome is far from guaranteed. During proceedings at the beginning of this year, EU representatives downplayed the contribution of snus to low smoking rates, crediting Sweden’s healthy lifestyles and generous parental leave policies instead.
That is hogwash. Many European countries offer workers lavish amounts of personal time, and the trend toward healthier living is evident across the continent. The real difference is that Sweden allows snus. If the EU recognizes a “right to health,” as it claims it does, it should lift its misguided ban.
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