News; Jun 3, 2002 CET

Arbitrary, unreasonable and discriminatory

The ban on sales of Swedish snuff, snus, is arbitrary, unreasonable and discriminatory, and conflicts with the EU’s fundamental principle concerning the free movement of goods. This was the opinion expressed by Bo Aulin, Swedish Match General Counsel and Senior Vice President, Corporate Affairs, at the Group’s capital market day in Gothenburg on February 15.

The Swedish variety of snuff, i.e. »snus« that is used in the mouth, is banned within the European Union. The ban was established through an EU directive in 1992, partly based on claims that snus causes cancer. »This does not correspond with the facts,« says Bo Aulin.

When Sweden became a member of the EU in 1995, Swedish negotiators were able to win an exemption for snus on the condition that Sweden agreed not to export the product to other EU member countries. The Swedes were able to keep their cherished snus but, in return, Swedish Match was forced to attach labels to snus cans with the warning text: »Causes cancer.«

Last year, the EU resolved through a new directive that the warning text should be changed to »May damage your health, and is addictive.« The ban on snus in the EU outside Sweden remains in force, however, despite the EU’s apparent acceptance in principle that snus cannot be regarded as causing cancer.

AGAINST THIS BACKGROUND, Swedish Match has worked actively to provide clarifications and information for many years in its efforts to get the ban on snus sales in EU countries rescinded. »We believe the snus ban lacks legal support, and conflicts with one of the central pillars of the EU’s harmonization structure, namely the free movement of goods across borders within the EU,« says Bo Aulin.

This principle has also been confirmed in the well-known case of »Cassis de Dijon.« The French liqueur encountered obstructions to exports, but the European Court of Justice ruled that all member nations were obliged to allow imports of a product that is legally produced and sold in another member country.

»The situation today,« Bo Aulin continues, »is that the real basis for the EU’s ban is that snus is considered harmful to health, an argument that falls outside the framework of the article in the Treaty of European Union on which the European Commission based its ban on the sale of snus. Furthermore, we have strong grounds for contending that this argument is incorrect, since the prevailing scientific consensus today indicates that snus does not represent an increased risk of cancer or cardiovascular diseases.«

In discussions with the European Commission, Swedish Match has also maintained that the snus ban actually counteracts the aim of protecting and improving public health within the EU.

»We have clear evidence in Sweden that snus is perhaps the most effective alternative to smoking. A substantial percentage of former smokers in Sweden were able to quit thanks to snus.

»We are now taking a number of initiatives to bring the issue of Swedish snus before the European Court of Justice. The total time horizon is somewhere in the range of 18-36 months. We expect that it will take 6-12 months before the issue is referred to the Court, after which the actual legal process will probably take another 12-24 months.«

THERE IS A CLEAR international trend reflecting growing interest in »The Swedish Experience« - a reference to Swedish snus and to Sweden as the only country that has achieved the World Health Organization’s goal that smokers should account for less than 20 percent of a country’s adult population.

»It is unreasonable for the only tobacco product that has been shown not to increase the risk of cancer to be banned and, for this reason, I am optimistic that we will eventually see a repeal of the EU’s ban on sales of Swedish snuff,« concludes Bo Aulin.

SEVEN OUT OF TEN SWEDES WANT SNUS BAN SCRAPPED The Swedish people have adopted a clear position regarding the EU’s ban on sales of Swedish snuff (»snus«). Seven out of ten Swedes believe the ban should be lifted, according to an opinion survey conducted by market research company TEMO.

TEMO was commissioned by Swedish Match to interview a nationally representative sample of Swedish people about their attitude to the EU’s snus ban.

A total of 1,756 Swedes aged 16 years and older were interviewed. The survey shows that 70 percent would like to see the ban lifted, while 21 percent feel that it should remain in force and 9 percent had no views on the issue.

Of those who do not use tobacco, 64 percent believe the ban should be lifted, while the corresponding figure for snus users is 82 percent.