Tuesday 13 December 2011

Nicotine wars: Latest

There can now be little doubt that the EU's ban on snus is being maintained at the behest of the pharmaceutical industry. It is not about health. It is not about science. As the Swedish press recently reported, the battle lines are drawn:

In the battle over snus the world's largest pharmaceutical company is in one corner of the ring and the world's largest tobacco company in the other. The battle is about the hundreds of millions of smokers who are trying to quit. Big time lobbying is clearly visible in the EU snus debate. The tobacco industry was most successful in mobilising support for petitions via YouTube and the Internet, while the pharmaceutical industry has achieved success by more selective actions.

“There is clear competition between us and the pharmaceutical industry,” says Swedish Match's Public Affairs Director Patrick Hildingsson. “In the EU there are 107 million smoking consumers both our industries want to reach. The pharmaceutical industry does not want see the success snus has had in helping people stop smoking to spread outside Sweden.”

But Pfizer's Medical Director John Brun does not see snus as competition: “Absolutely not. Tobacco is a major health risk regardless of how it is consumed, which is why we have committed ourselves to reaching out from a health perspective in public debate.”

Pfizer—maker of Nicorette and Champix—does not see snus as competition?! How strange that they should waste so much their time and money lobbying for it to remain illegal (almost as strange as them funding studies into the economic impact of smoking bans). You'd think they'd have better things to do that worry about a niche smokeless tobacco product, unless of course they're worried that it's a more effective smoking cessation aid than their own products.

Instead, they're keen to rush the European Commission into producing its new Tobacco Product Directive, which will address the question of whether the snus ban is justifiable. The following is a letter Pfizer put its name to (along with Anna Gilmore, Luke Clancy and other useful idiots):

Dear President Barroso,

We are writing to you as a group of NGOs, charities, researchers, industry representatives and MEPs representing a majority of Member States and every major major political group, to urge you to bring forward the proposal for a revision of the Tobacco Products Directive at the beginning of 2012, as promised.

... As a signatory of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control the European Union has a responsibility to implement measures which reduce tobacco use across Europe, and the revision of the Tobacco Products Directive is central to that. As this report will be so important, and undoubtedly controversial, the Council and Parliament will need time to thoroughly scrutinise and negotiate an effective revision. If we do not begin work at the beginning of 2012 we could be in real danger of having to restart the whole process after the 2014 elections. Given our commitment to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control this is simply not an option.

We are of the view that further delays are not acceptable, and would appreciate if the Commission could inform us of a definitive timetable for the revision of the Tobacco Directive.

The only problem is that the EU's public consultation didn't exactly go Big Pharma's way...

Of the citizens who submitted their opinions, more than eight out of ten, 84 percent, support lifting the export ban on snus. 86 percent of government representatives and 74 percent of industry representatives wish to lift the ban. Only among lobbyists and NGOs is there a slim majority, 56 percent, who want to keep the ban on snus.

The consultation was a disaster for Pfizer because the anti-tobacco extremists neglected to get their NGOs and fake charities to respond en masse. Worse still, tobacco retailers in two countries organised petitions which generated 82,000 responses.

Mind you, those 82,000 people were probably tobacco users so the EU won't be counting them...

The EU Commission, however, dismisses a significant portion of the responses from the 82,000 citizens on the grounds that two-thirds are from Italy and Poland, where tobacco merchants organised petitions.

Some people say the EU is anti-democratic, y'know.

But even if we exclude these two countries, the majority is still for lifting the export ban on snus, 10-6, when respondents are broken down by country.

Bit of a bugger. What if we exclude the public altogether?

DN's review of the 400 responses in this group shows that even among the responses from parliamentarians, municipalities, government agencies and ministries a large majority, 71 percent, support lifting the export ban. 

Ouch! Surely there must be some way to fiddle the figures?

Even when only EU governments and ministries are included, there is still no majority against snus, but rather 3-3.

Damn it! How is the EU supposed to justify its arbitrary, scientifically indefensible prohibition when even politicians won't lend their support?

Oh well, there's only one thing for it...

The European Commission's health directorate claims to have received responses from governments who in other ways support the ban on snus, but refuses to show them.


"You know that public consultation that went against us? You won't believe this, but I've just found a bunch of responses down the back of the sofa. Thousands of them, and all of them support the ban! 

Sorry, you want to what? Oh, you want to see them? Er, yes...erm...ah... Good Lord is that the time? I really must be going..."

Some people say the EU is corrupt as well, y'know.

However, there may yet be a glimmer of hope...

The European Commission has promised Sweden it will take another look at its ban of the tobacco product snus, which is allowed in Sweden but banned elsewhere in the European Union, the Swedish trade minister said on Wednesday.

Trade minister Ewa Bjorling said she had met EU Health Commissioner John Dalli and discussed the results of a survey of EU states about current tobacco laws.

“What I believe is most important is that you base your reasoning on scientific facts. That is what I try to tell Dalli, and I ask the question: Why do you still want to have a ban on Swedish wet snuff when there are other snuff products on the market in the EU, for example Pakistani snuff?,” Bjorling told Reuters.

This was the second time she raised the snus issue with Dalli.

“I think he was listening in a different way this time. The first time he dismissed it simply saying their goal is to get everything away for health reasons,” Bjorling said.

I suppose not dismissing the idea out of hand is some sort of step forward. Interesting to note that the real goal is total prohibition of all tobacco products, but I think we'd worked that out already.


Jean said...

The snus ban has always been a bad decision, but one that up until now could be described as a mistake, however costly.
But now, with dozens of studies and the current behaviour of various European and national officials, the whole matter looks different.
What is happening now is that decision makers are deliberately misleading the public into supporting a ban that is indirectly responsible for a huge number of deaths.
It would be nice if someone reminded the people in charge that their behaviour, such as distorting the consultation results or using the inappropriate SCENHIR report a few years ago in order to support the ban, may expose them to unpleasant litigation in the future. At least that is my impression.

dearieme said...

Are we still subsidising Greek tobacco growers?

Anonymous said...

If you want to try snus, don't be put off by the ban. You can order it online and keep it in the freezer. Most of the time there are no problems. See UK Snus Lovers

Anonymous said...

Do you have a link to the letter with all its signatories Chris?

Christopher Snowdon said...

Here it is:


I've added it to the blog post now as well.

Anonymous said...

"Interesting to note that the real goal is total prohibition of all tobacco products"

Which might just have something to do with the Tobacco plant's future in drug production.

There have been widespread concerns about the use of edible plants, so they have been looking for a high yield plant that is not part of the food chain.

Harvesting "green" pharmaceuticals - 2001

"Today, more than one in four pharmaceutical products are manufactured by means of biotechnology and genetic engineering.

Until now, drugs such as insulin, interferon and vaccines against jaundice were mostly derived from bacteria or animal cell cultures.

Yet these methods have several disadvantages: The proteins produced in bacterial or mammalian cell cultures can trigger immune responses or transmit pathogens such as HIV or viral strains of hepatitis.

"Plants, on the other hand, do not produce any bacterial toxins, virus particles or pathogens that might represent a health risk for humans,"

"The tobacco plant is most suited to large-scale production of active agents.
It can easily be genetically modified and cultivated at low cost.

Tobacco generates a great volume of biomass per hectare and year, and thus produces the very high yield of the final product," says the biologist, summarizing the results."

Currently in progress at East Malling Research Station Kent

"Researchers at East Malling Research are helping to grow genetically-modified tobacco plants which give off a potentially life-saving drug through their roots.

It is the first small experimental set up of its kind undertaken in Europe.

The EMR team, led by Dr Chris Atkinson, and Professor Julian Ma, of St George's, University of London, are looking at ways to use the plants to produce large quantities of a drug known to block HIV infection.

After a year of trials, Professor Ma hopes effective HIV drugs will be produced in sufficient quantities to help millions of people in the next five years.

In the latest experiments tobacco plants have been transformed by Prof Ma's team at St. George's University of London to produce a protein called cyanovirin-N, which prevents HIV from binding to human cells.

Dr Atkinson, deputy chief executive at EMR, said: "This is a groundbreaking and globally significant piece of research with huge potential.

"Tobacco is an ideal non-food crop for this research, thanks to the speed it grows and matures and our deep knowledge of its physiology and transformability, which has been the focus of scientific attention for more than 20 years."

Friday, December 09 2011


Anonymous said...

I don't see the problem. Of course big pharma is going to want to defend itself against a competitor and, like any other organisation, will use whatever weapons it has at its disposal. Does that make me a c++t? I don't think so but then I wouldn't.

Anonymous said...


You are subsidising French tobacco growers as well....