The secrecy surrounding the upcoming meeting of the Convention on Tobacco Control (COP10) is causing concern among many Swedes. Not least among those who use or work with smoke-free nicotine products such as snus and e-cigarettes.
"All documents are confidential. But if the government doesn't stand up for harm minimisation, it has some explaining to do to Sweden's 1.4 million snus users and vejp users" says Bengt Wiberg, activist and founder of the network "#EU4Snus".
In recent years, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has made no secret of its views on e-cigarettes and other nicotine products that compete with cigarettes in the nicotine market. On several occasions, the WHO has campaigns and statements said that smokeless nicotine products should be banned or at least regulated as strictly as cigarettes. At the same time, the global framework that is set to tackle smoking and its harmful effects, The Tobacco Conventionhas never included smoke-free nicotine products. Even though both e-cigarettes and snus are heavily regulated in some countries, it has been up to individual governments to manage the products without being bound by the Convention. For example, Swedes can buy snus in regular shops, even though it is banned in the rest of the EU.
But that could change. At least that is the fear of many people working in the field known as tobacco harm reduction.
Many bans on the list
According to the public documents produced by the WHO Secretariat for Tobacco Control. presented to the 10th meeting of the Convention on Tobacco Control (COP10), delegates will now have to consider issues related to smokeless nicotine products. These are mainly heat-not-burn products and e-cigarettes. The secretariat proposes everything from ban on flavours to classify vaporised nicotine as smoke. The aim is to bring all inhaled nicotine products under the framework of the Tobacco Convention, without having to rewrite the entire Convention. But snus and nicotine pouches are also under scrutiny. Again, there are proposals to ban or at least severely restrict their availability.
More 'anti-industry' than health issue
At the same time, it appears that the reason for the proposed measures does not really have much to do with health. Nicotine pouches (white snuff) have a similar harm profile as nicotine medicinesThe product is originally designed for the pharmaceutical industry. The same applies to for e-cigarettes, invented by a pharmacist almost 20 years ago. Rather, the key point is that the products in question are now highly linked to tobaccoindustrin - something that is viewed with very unflinching eyes by the established the anti-tobacco movement who once laid the groundwork for the Tobacco Convention.
The Tobacco Convention has been signed by nearly 200 countries, including Sweden, and guides tobacco legislation worldwide.
Bengt Wiberg are snus users, vejp users and activist for harm minimisation for several years. He is the contact person and founder of the 'EU4Snus' network - a loosely connected platform that organises snus users from almost 100 countries. And he is worried about this development.
"Overall, it doesn't look good for products that many people think are important to replace cigarettes," he tells Vejpkollen.
"Does Sweden think like the EU about snus?"
Sweden will stand behind a EU common line for smokeless nicotine products under COPO10. What this means is unclear, as all documents are confidential. Bengt Wiberg believes that the Swedish government is playing a high-stakes game.
"If the government does not stand up for harm minimisation in the form of snus and other smoke-free nicotine products, it has some explaining to do to Sweden's 1.4 million snus users and also those who use snus or want to quit smoking in the rest of Europe" says Bengt Wiberg.
No clear answers in the autumn
Earlier this winter, the Member of Parliament Icause From a similar question to Minister of Health Jacob Forssmed. On that occasion, the Minister replied that Sweden had not adopted a clear position on the issue of harm minimisation and the merits or otherwise of snus. Shortly afterwards, however, the Ministry of Social Affairs presented a list of delegates who will represent Sweden at COP10.
"Has the government ensured that the Swedish delegation stands up for tobacco harm minimisation and explained that snus and tobacco-free nicotine products such as white snus and vejpning are important keys to why Sweden has basically stopped smoking?" says Bengt Wiberg.
High level of confidentiality at the Ministry
Paula Ericsson, an expert at Ministry of Social Affairs is the chief representative of the Swedish delegation at COP10. And she is very quiet about what the delegation's actual mandate is from the government.
"We will have a common approach with the other EU countries. That's really the only thing I can say about it," said Mr Van Rompuy. Paula Ericsson to Vejpkollen.
High confidentiality - a security issue
When Vejpkollen asks the Ministry of Social Affairs for the minutes of the guidance meetings for a common position, it turns out that almost all the key texts are marked as confidential. According to Paula Ericsson the confidentiality is due to the fact that the content concerns the security of other countries.
"The reason for omitting information is that this information concerns Sweden's relations with another state or otherwise concerns another state, intergovernmental organisation, authority, citizen or legal person in another state or stateless person. It can be assumed that it will disrupt Sweden's international relations or otherwise harm the country if certain information is disclosed. Therefore, secrecy applies to this information under the Public Access to Information and Secrecy Act." says Paula Ericsson to Vejpkollen.
"Complies with the Tobacco Convention"
Paula Ericsson notes that interest in COP10 and the Swedish delegation's mission has been relatively high. Not least from companies operating in the nicotine market, in some cases tobacco companies. Few journalists have contacted her.
"There has been some pressure from those who want information and documents. But since Sweden has signed the Tobacco Convention, which clearly states guidelines for interactions with the tobacco industry, it is important that we handle industry representatives with caution." she tells Vejpkollen
For example, what positions will Sweden support during COP10 on snus and nicotine pouches?
"Not necessarily. But in this case, as I said, it's a different confidentiality that concerns international relations. However, we will comply with the Tobacco Convention when it comes to contacts with the tobacco industry," says Mr Perez. Paula Ericsson.
Affects one and a half million Swedes
But according to Bengt Wiberg it is completely unreasonable that information that affects so many Swedes is in principle confidential.
"There are one and a half million Swedes who use snus and vejp, most of them to stay smoke-free. Our government has also decided that Swedish tobacco policy should have strong elements of harm minimisation. This means that snus and other less harmful nicotine products have an important role to play and that they should be allowed" says Bengt Wiberg to Vejpkollen.
Vejpkollen on site in Panama
COP10 will take place in Panama City between 5 and 10 February. Vejpkollen will report from the meeting and the related conferences organised by activists and other interest groups.