Tuesday 23 January 2018

Snus goes to court again

I was interviewed for the Europeans Podcast recently about the issue of snus. You can listen to it here (iTunes) or here (Android).

The interview was timely because we've just had news out of Norway where Sweden's experience of a mass cross-over from cigarettes to smokeless tobacco has been replicated.

More Norwegians use snus – a form of snuff particular to Nordic countries – instead of cigarettes for their nicotine fix, official figures showed for the first time on Thursday.

The preference for snus in Norway, is certain to revive debate over the health effects of the product, a moist powder tobacco that is popped under the lip.

Though its sale is illegal across the EU, it is manufactured and used in Sweden, which has an exemption, and Norway, which is not an EU member.

According to Norway’s statistics office SSB, 12% of Norwegians used snus daily in 2017, compared with 11% who smoked cigarettes every day.

Uber-tweeter Stephen Fry has also posted one of his occasional tweets on the subject:

On Thursday, the EU's ban on snus will be tested at the European Court of Justice. As I described in The Art of Suppression, the ECJ ruled that the ban was legal some years ago after the IARC rushed out a briefing which conflated snus with hazardous smokeless tobacco products from places like India. Since then, more epidemiology has shown snus's potential to help smokers quit and has found the product to be vastly less hazardous than cigarettes.

The case has been brought by Swedish Match and the New Nicotine Alliance. The latter has issued an update on its website:

The case was originally brought by Swedish Match. The New Nicotine Alliance asked to be joined to this case because it concerns the health of smokers in the European Union. It is not about markets and commerce, but about the right to be able to choose a safer alternative to smoking. For the NNA this case is about whether some 320,000 premature deaths from smoking can be saved in future years, as detailed by Dr Lars Ramström in his statement to the court.

The denial of access to lower risk snus leads to unnecessary deaths. The NNA believes that smokers have a right to safer nicotine products as alternatives to smoking and the right to make choices that help them avoid adverse health outcomes.

The core of the NNA’s case is that the ban on snus is both disproportionate and contrary to the right to health. There is no need for the ban, and the ban, if upheld, will continue to contribute to excess mortality from smoking in Europe.

This is the first time that a ‘right to health’ argument has been used to challenge a bad tobacco law: we argue that the Court needs to examine the compatibility of the Tobacco Products Directive with both the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the harm reduction obligation under the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

I have written before about how Brexit offers an opportunity to get rid of this ridiculous ban, but the ECJ case offers an opportunity for smokers across the EU to switch to snus.

Fingers crossed.

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