EU health bureaucrats want to ban white snus, i.e. nicotine pouches, in all EU countries, including Sweden. This is what Charlie Weimers, a member of the European Parliament, says after reading a leaked report commissioned by the European Commission ahead of a revision of the EU tobacco directive.
"The report concludes that the EU snus ban has been very successful and recommends that the same ban should apply to nicotine pouches," writes Charlie Weimers in a high-profile post on X (formerly Twitter).
The debate on nicotine pouches has raged in many European countries since the products became popular. Swedish snus was banned in the early 1990s but its sister product is now available alongside cigarettes in many tobacco shops, but perhaps most notably online. Despite their growing popularity, however, nicotine pouches are the biggest sellers in the Nordic countries. According to Charlie Weimers, conservative member of the EU Parliament, alongside Swedish snus, nicotine pouches have contributed to the fact that not only Swedish men smoke less than the European average. He points out that nicotine pouches have become particularly popular among women in Sweden, a group whose smoking rate has long been significantly higher than that of men.
"Men have largely opted out of smoking in favour of snus, while women seeking less dangerous alternatives are more likely to opt for white snus. Therefore, a ban on nicotine pouches would hit women particularly hard." writes Charlie Weimers.
Warns of different bans
For several years, the European Commission has been preparing a revision of the TPD, the European Tobacco Directive, which also includes e-cigarettes. The work has been characterised by several open consultations, where thousands of stakeholders have been asked to give their views on how the current rules work and how they feel about possible stricter rules in the future. By spring 2023, the Commission warned Sweden's largest snus retailer because white snus is likely to be heavily taxed, face flavour restrictions or, at worst, be banned altogether unless consumers and politicians take action in the EU.
"Swedish snus is protected by a derogation from EU legislation," says Mr Weimers.
"Unfortunately, the Swedish exemption for tobacco snus does not apply to nicotine pouches. If the European Commission and Member States accept the report's recommendation, white snus will also be banned in Sweden." writes Charlie Weimers.
He also believes that the authors of the commissioned report grossly misinterpreted the effect of the EU snus ban as a success. He argues that the opposite is true.
"That the EU snus ban is a success is completely wrong. It is in fact snus that makes Sweden the only country in the EU that is on track to reach the UN's goal of a smoke-free society (defined as less than 5% smokers), which has saved many lives. A ban on white snus would be a severe blow to the attempt to eradicate smoking in the EU." writes Charlie Weimers in his post on X.
"Obfuscating future bans"
When Charlie Weimers published the as yet unofficial report, the advocacy organisation revealed that Pouch Forum that it was probably not intended that the people most affected, businesses and users, should know that a ban is in the works. According to documents obtained by the Pouch Forum writers, two versions of the report have been circulated: one for so-called "stakeholders" (i.e. businesses and consumers) and another for politicians within the EU apparatus.
"The text sent to economic operators states that "economic operators believe that extending the snus ban to nicotine pouches will be detrimental to users who intend to switch "to safer alternatives", while the text sent to Member States states that "new products falling under the relevance criterion, require the ban to be extended to nicotine-containing oral products"." writes Pouch Forum on its website.
Ignoring the role of snus
According to the writers at Pouch Forum this suggests a cover-up tactic, where those with economic or user-related interests should be kept out of the discussion as much as possible. A neutral account of the effect of snus on smoking in Sweden (close to the "smoke-free" threshold) should not be presented in a positive light for future decisions in the Parliament, according to the report. Pouch Forums writers.
"They want policy makers to ignore the situation in the only Member State where smokers have access to many alternatives to cigarettes. Sweden shows that a broader range of nicotine products on the market leads to better public health outcomes no matter how it is measured," writes Pouch Forum.
Regulated differently in EU countries
Nicotine pouches are currently authorised to be sold in most EU countries. Belgium has prohibited the sale. In countries such as the Netherlands, only extremely low nicotine portions have been allowed to be purchased on prescription (but will be banned completely) A similar system was recently abolished in Finland, where nicotine portions since May 2023 can be sold in regular shops. In countries like Sweden, only 6% of the population smoke, while 10 to 20% use snus, e-cigarettes and nicotine pouches.
Facts: The debate on smokeless nicotine.
- Consensus in the international research community, including in syntheses British Royal College of Physicians, believes that smokeless nicotine products are very likely to cause a fraction of the damage caused by smoking. However, with the exception of Sweden, there are no extensive epidemiological studies to support this view.
- Swedish politicians have Divided opinions on snus (and subsequently the role of nicotine pouches) in relation to Sweden's low smoking rate. At present, a majority in parliament (including the parties that have formed a government) are in favour of a principle of harm minimisation. This means the government wants snus and other smokeless nicotine products, such as e-cigarettes, to be regulated differently from smoking tobacco.
- Recently, the government announced that tax on snus to be reducedand that the reduction will be financed by increasing taxes on cigarettes. Nicotine pouches are regulated at the same way as e-cigarettes, with taxation, age limits and marketing restrictions.
- The Swedish Public Health Agency, on the other hand, is aligned with the opposition and believes that snus and vaping products should be regulated in the same way as cigarettes. The Swedish Public Health Agency has, among other things the issue of banning the flavour of e-cigarettes, a proposal put forward by the previous Social Democratic government, but which was voted down in parliament.
- The WHO also believes that it is more important to curb the market for all nicotine products than to promote harm minimisation for current and future smokers. The WHO is expected to introduce stricter guidelines for alternative nicotine products in the upcoming revision of its The Tobacco Convention in November, during the tenth meeting of the signatories to the Convention. (COP10).