Wednesday, 25 January 2017

The snus ban goes to the High Court

Many readers will be familiar with the illiberal, harmful and scientifically illiterate EU ban on snus. To the UK's eternal shame, it was a British moral panic that got the ball rolling in the 1980s and the EU has been too pig-headed to correct its error in the years since.

Brexit offers the UK hope of sane harm reduction strategy in which snus is relegalised, but there is no guarantee that politicians will see the opportunity and, even they do, it will not help the rest of the EU.

So I was very pleased to see that the issue is going to the High Court tomorrow. From the New Nicotine Alliance (NNA) website:

NNA is seeking to overturn the UK and EU ban on snus. Snus is a popular and effective harm reduction product which has helped thousands in Sweden and Norway to avoid the risks of smoking. As a result Sweden and Norway have the lowest rates of lung cancer in Europe. But the sale of snus is banned in the EU, except in Sweden. The TPD was bad for e-cigarettes, but worse for snus. We will tell the court that the ban is harmful to health and that UK smokers deserve a better deal – the snus ban kills.

E-cigarettes are having a major impact, but they don’t work for everyone in all circumstances. We want to see wide availability of all safer nicotine products as alternatives to smoking.

Everyone was taken by surprise by the way millions of smokers flocked to e-cigarettes to help them cut down or stop smoking. Yet nine million people in the UK continue to smoke and proven alternatives like snus should be available to help those who want to switch away from cigarettes. When smokers have the widest possible choice of reduced risk products it increases the likelihood of their finding an option that works for them.

Snus is a popular and effective harm reduction product. But the sale of snus is banned in the EU, except in Sweden. The TPD was bad for e-cigarettes, but worse for snus. The EU continued with the ban despite huge evidence for the safety and impact of snus, and despite the overwhelming view of consumers who told the EC that the snus ban should be lifted.

NNA contends that snus fulfils the criteria for a tobacco harm reduction product and that it should be available in the UK.

That is why we are going to the High Court on Thursday 26th to ask for the ban to be lifted. We are piggy-backing on Swedish Match’s request for a Judicial Review of the ban on snus. NNA is asking the Court to be allowed to make its own submission in order to provide a consumer perspective on the ban and of the benefits that will follow if the ban is lifted.

If the High Court agrees that there is a case to answer the case will be forwarded to the European Court of Justice. This is because the UK law is based in EU law - and yes – we are still in the EU as of now and the ECJ process still stands. If, and it’s a big IF, the case is referred to the ECJ, and IF the ECJ rules against the ban then this decision would apply across all of the EU. So, there is a lot at stake.

Snus is much safer than smoking tobacco. Some 46% of deaths due to smoking are respiratory diseases, predominantly lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and pneumonia. Without the inhalation of smoke then for these diseases alone half of premature deaths can be avoided.

Sweden now has the lowest lung cancer and tobacco-related mortality in Europe. There is scant evidence for any major adverse health effects of snus: snus is not associated with cancers of the oropharynx, oesophagus, pancreas, or heart disease or strokes. Switching to snus appears to have much the same reduced health risk as stopping smoking. Snus is not completely free from adverse health effects but these are miniscule compared with the risks of smoking. Snus poses no risk to others as there is no ‘second hand' smoke.

Snus protects against smoking by reducing the uptake of smoking, helping people reduce smoking, and helping people to stop. In Sweden and Norway the increase in the use of snus has been accompanied by a major decrease in smoking. As a consequence the prevalence of male adult smoking in Sweden and Norway is now the lowest in Europe at 11% and 13% respectively.

Smoking is fast disappearing amongst some Swedish men: in the 30-44 year age group only 5% are daily smokers, less than a quarter of the level in the UK.

NNA will tell the court that the ban on the sale of snus is incompatible with evidence for its safety in comparison with smoked tobacco cigarettes and that the ban is against the interests of individual and public health.

The application is supported by Witness Statements from myself, Karl Lund – the leading Norwegian expert on snus, Louise Ross – NNA Associate and an expert on stop smoking services and alternative products, and Judy Gibson - from the International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations.

Watch the NNA website and follow @NNAlliance on Twitter and NNAlliance on Facebook for updates on the case and please share our posts on social media.

NNA’s view reflects the weight of consumer opinion in the EU that is overwhelmingly in favour of lifting the ban on snus: according to evidence from the European Commission itself some 83% of the 70,925 who responded to the consultation on the Tobacco Products Directive wanted the ban removed.

We will tell the court that the ban is harmful to health rather than protective of health; that it discriminates against products and consumers, and works against the achievement of a high level of health protection. UK smokers deserve a better deal – the snus ban kills.

Let's hope for a positive outcome.

(See Facts Do Matter for further comment.)

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