Debate: "There is a heavy responsibility on the Consumer Agency"

DEBATE. By being overzealous and deliberately misinterpreting the new law as concerning nicotine pouches, the Swedish Consumer Agency risks damaging public health. So says Karl-Åke Johansson, chairman of the consumer-driven organisation NNA Sweden.

This is a debating article. The opinions are those of the named writer. Comment or contact editorial staff if you want to answer!

After some reflection on Vejpkollen's article On the Consumer Agency's hunt for manufacturers and sellers of nicotine pouches, I have had some contact with Astrid Hjertaker, a lawyer at the Consumer Agency. She is the sender of their report.

We had a small discussion about how the agency interprets the new law. The Swedish Consumer Agency says that the law stipulates that "Marketing of tobacco-free nicotine products may not be specifically targeted at or depict children or young people who have not reached the age of 25". 

This is what the law says businesses should adhere to. Fair enough!

However, the report states that the marketing of nicotine pouches "is largely carried out on social media and that in most cases the marketing has been designed in a way that risk of attract a younger target group

Big difference in interpretation

This is where it becomes problematic.
There is a big difference between marketing being "directly aimed at" and marketing can "risk attracting a younger target group"!

This kind of reinterpretation by public authorities is very worrying and shows a lack of respect for our values. parliament who made the laws. This is the other side of the coin of Swedish authorities being free from direct "ministerial control", where they can actually ignore the intention of the legislators in favour of their own interpretation.

Condemned for wrong font

At this point, I couldn't help but ask Astrid a few questions about boundaries.

Astrid Hjertaker believes that 'it is a matter of judgement in each individual case as to whether a marketing measure may be considered to be specifically targeted at children or young people under the age of 25'. and that "However, aspects that can be taken into account in an individual assessment may include the use of letters, motifs, colours and styles associated with youth culture."

So you can be found guilty of using the wrong typeface. The rules that the industry has to comply with are so vague. It also sounds as if the Swedish Consumer Agency intends to go "all in" in controlling this. The risk is that the agency will conduct an overly zealous review of these particular products. 

Women are attracted by nicotine pouches

But why is this so worrying?

Snus has made a significant contribution to public health in Sweden. We have one of the lowest smoking rates in the world, thanks to snus. This benefit has mainly been for men, as women have found it difficult to take up regular tobacco snus. But since the introduction of nicotine pouches, statistics on the number of women smokers have also shown a significant decline.
After all, nicotine (without the smoke) is a fairly harmless drug, with not even statistics showing any long-term adverse effects that could shorten life.

Becomes counterproductive

Preventing smokers (in particular women) from receiving adequate information on products that can lead them away from a guaranteed deadly habit, which smoking actually is, is not only serious but counterproductive from a public health perspective. This is true even if one wants to protect the very small proportion of young people who may be exposed to the "temptation" of trying something that is actually quite harmless.

Is nicotine worse than alcohol?

In this context, alcohol is a much more troublesome substance that causes social exclusion, damage and shortens lives. Yet our state monopoly is allowed to vividly describe the Breezer Tropical Watermelon (truly a youth-oriented product) as a social drink with 'Fruity flavour with sweetness and distinct watermelon character, hints of blood orange and herbs. Served chilled'. In addition, the manufacturer is free to promote the product as ice-cold as it likes via social media.

In the same way as with nicotine pouches, we have a clear age limit at the sales stage, which is also considered sufficient for alcohol. I can't understand why it would be more serious for someone to be tempted to become a snus user than for someone to risk becoming an alcoholic.

Stop the free samples

Of course, scrutiny is good. In the case of nicotine portions, where we have had a period of totally unregulated products, a proper review is probably necessary. For example, free samples of various addictive substances are something that should not be allowed. In fact, the pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies are the biggest culprits here: sample bags with their nicotine pouches are lying around in baskets for anyone to take out. We have to get rid of that.

Review carefully but wisely

So feel free to scrutinise, but there is no need to over-interpret the law as it can have a very negative effect and affect smokers' chances of finding a good way to quit smoking. There is a heavy responsibility on the Consumer Agency. The risk is that the agency will cause great harm, especially from a public health perspective, if companies cannot market their products in a good way.

Karl-Åke Johansson
Chairman NNA Sweden

This is a debating article. The opinions are those of the named writer. Comment or contact editorial staff if you want to answer!

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