Will Europe lift ban on Oral Snuff?

Friday 04 June 2004

ASH MEDIA BRIEFING:  Friday 3rd June 2004

European Court of Justice Hearing on June 8th

Oral snuff, a form of smokeless tobacco, has been banned in all EU countries except Sweden since 1992. Swedish Match has challenged the ban and the case comes to court on June 8th.[1]

The ban[2] was originally enacted because of concerns that oral snuff would be “used above all by young people”, and that oral tobacco such as this “contained particularly large quantities of carcinogenic substances”. Oral snuff, the Swedish version of which is called snus, is a moist, ground, smokeless tobacco available either loose or in pouch form and is sucked. However, traditional tobacco products for oral use (that is cigarettes which are smoked, and chewing tobacco) were not included in the ban, even though cigarettes are at least 100 times more harmful than snus and traditional oral tobacco is known to have far higher levels of carcinogenic substances than snus.

The Swedish Match challenge to the ban is on the grounds that it is unjustified, arbitrary, discriminatory and disproportionate. In particular that :

  • Snus was not a new product, as it had been on the market in Sweden, Denmark and Norway for around 200 years prior to the prohibition.
  • The scientific evidence that oral snuff was harmful used to justify the ban was not the best evidence available at the time, and more recent evidence proves even more strongly that the negative health effects of snus are small[3].
  • The distinction between oral products intended to be sucked and those intended to be chewed is meaningless as almost all smokeless tobacco products including those intended to be chewed are used in the same way as snus.

Investment analyst Robert Campagnino of the Prudential Equity Group believes that, “Swedish Match has very strong arguments, and that the complete ban on smokeless tobacco products is likely to be reversed.”

ASH believes that there is no logic to the banning of snus, when cigarettes, which are far more deadly, are on general sale, but that snus should not simply be de-regulated[4].  Director of ASH, Deborah Arnott, said “If oral snuff is legalised as a result of the legal challenge to the EU by Swedish Match, it should be regulated so that standards are set for the levels of toxins and carcinogens in all tobacco, whether it is smoked or not. Consumer Information and labelling of such products should be strictly controlled by the regulator to prevent them from being promoted to attract new users.”

– ENDS –

 Notes and links:

[1] The ECJ will begin to hear arguments on June 8th. It is expected that the court will issue a decision by late 2004, or early 2005.

[2]The prohibition was originally introduced in 1992 by an amendment to the 1989 Directive.  Article 8  provided that: “Member States shall prohibit the placing on the market of tobacco for oral use as defined in Article 2(4)”. Article 2(4) defined  “tobacco for oral use” as “all products for oral use, except those intended to be smoked or chewed, made wholly or partly of tobacco, in powder or particulate form or in any combination of these forms – particularly those presented in sachet portions or porous sachets – or in a form resembling a food product.” This is now Article 8 of EU Directive 2001/37/EC.

[3] The International Agency for Research into Cancer (IARC) report which was the main source of the original analysis of the risks of oral tobacco, was based on studies that were almost exclusively on US and Asian oral tobacco products, not snus.

[4] Protecting smokers, saving lives (pdf): The case for a tobacco and nicotine regulatory authority, Royal College of Physicians