News; Nov 10, 2007 CET

Snus tax hike - a blow to public health

There is increasing awareness that snus is better for public health than cigarette smoking. Nevertheless, the Swedish government, in its budget bill this autumn, has announced an additional high tax increase for snus from the beginning of next year.
Lars-Erik Rutqvist

"When the government unilaterally attacks snus and in such a disproportionate manner, the wrong signals are being sent in terms of the harmfulness of different tobacco products. There is also the risk of removing the incentive for smokers to quit by switching to a product that we know has helped many smokers become free from cigarette addiction," says Lars-Erik Rutqvist, VP Scientific Affairs at Swedish Match.

If the increase is approved, tax on snus will have increased by 173 percent from December 2006 to January 2008. The tax on cigarettes will have only increased by 24 percent during the same period.

"This wrongly implies that all tobacco is equally harmful, while medical research and experience indicates the opposite. Today, comprehensive scientific documentation indicates the relative health benefits of snus and also indicates that snus is very effective in antidotal smoking treatment".

In the international scientific community, "the Swedish experience" has become an established concept. An increasing number of symposiums, conferences, studies and scientific reviews have dealt precisely with this. In Sweden, snus has been well-established for some time and it has therefore been possible to support health gains with respect to, for example, cardiovascular diseases and various forms of cancer.

The scientific committee that this summer, on assignment from the EU, presented a report on smokeless tobacco may not have excluded the possibility of health risks being associated with snus. However, it indicated that Swedish snus has a unique position among smokeless tobacco products, that it is significantly less unhealthy than cigarettes and that there are large health benefits for smokers who switch from cigarettes to snus.

Last spring, a number of researchers arrived at the same conclusion in the well-respected magazine, The Lancet, and recommended that Swedish snus be allowed in countries in which it is forbidden today.

"Item after item, the relative gains of snus are being moved forward in the public health debate and in the medical world. At the same time, the socio-economic cost of cigarette smoking is astronomical. Smoking is particularly the cause of major suffering for many people, resulting in serious illnesses and premature death," says Lars-Erik Rutqvist.

It is difficult to understand the government's policies, according to Rutqvist. In Sweden, despite the popularity of snus, there are still more people who smoke compared with the number using snus.

"Introducing a high tax increase for snus, while cigarettes get off lightly, sends completely wrong signals," he concludes.