Free samples, colourful descriptions of flavours and advertising that risks attracting young people. The Swedish Consumer Agency is now severely criticising Swedish manufacturers of nicotine pouches, known as white snus.
"There has been a bit of a klondike and a lot of brutal marketing before the law was introduced. At the same time, the Swedish Consumer Agency has a tendency to over-interpret the law, which can have major consequences for public health," says Karl-Åke Johansson, chairman of the Swedish user organisation New Nicotine Alliance.
The law for new nicotine products launched in autumn 2022. Since then, it has been illegal to sell nicotine pouches to people under the age of 18. At the same time, marketing was regulated. Under the new law, companies may not target their advertising directly at people under 25, describe flavours "more than necessary", be intrusive or encourage the use of tobacco-free nicotine products. The Swedish Consumer Agency has now examined the marketing behaviour of 12 different companies in the sector..
"The investigation found several clear violations of the law." writes the Swedish Consumer Agency. "This has involved the presentation of images, films, sound and light, texts or claims that in their design go beyond the requirement of special moderation."
Same rules as for e-cigs
The requirement of moderation in product descriptions and marketing has been in place for several years for vaping products (e-cigarettes and e-liquid), which has led to confusion for both consumers and retailers.
NNA Sweden, which organises users of harm-reducing nicotine products such as e-cigarettes, nicotine pouches and snus, has previously been critical of the way the authorities deal with product alternatives to cigarettes. According to Karl-Åke Johansson the Consumer Agency tends to over-interpret the law, which ultimately hurts consumers and current smokers.
"Handing out free samples is of course crossing the line and is important to address. But actively limiting smokers' access to these products is serious in itself and not good for public health." says Karl-Åke Johansson.
"Information becomes difficult to access"
The Swedish Consumer Agency notes that many companies in the sector are active on social media. This raises suspicions that the companies want to reach a target group under the age of 25. According to the audit, the marketing is also designed in a way that risks attracting a younger target group.
"Here I think the Consumer Agency is misinterpreting what the law actually says. I am 60 years old and often find myself on social media. So do middle-aged smokers. According to the law, companies should not "deliberately target" young people. But as the agency interprets the law, you can't even "risk" influencing young people. This is very arbitrary and makes the information available to smokers on social media difficult to access," says Mr Perez. Karl-Åke Johansson
Calls for guidance information
The companies that have been scrutinised will now have the opportunity to revise their marketing before the Consumer Agency carries out new checks. Karl Åke Johansson hopes that consumers can continue to receive guidance on nicotine pouches, including through social media.
"I usually compare with items at Systembolaget. A 'Baccardi Tropical Watermelon' is described as 'a fruity drink with a distinct sweetness and flavour of watermelon. Served cold as a social drink". According to the Swedish Consumer Agency, this is apparently ok. If the rules that apply to e-cigarettes, and now also nicotine pouches, were to apply to spirits, it would say "flavour=watermelon". Period. This begs the question: do our authorities think it is worse to have more non-smoking nicotine users than to risk having more alcoholics? Which does more damage?" says Karl-Åke Johansson.