Snus Should Not Be Banned! The Evidence Says That Snus Should Not Be Banned
How would the people of France react if the European Union wanted to prohibit them from selling wine in other member states on health grounds? Or their wonderful cheeses, which contain the Listeria monocytogene bacteria, a well-known health risk? And what would Irish or Danish people say if their beef trade were to be permanently banned because of animal-welfare issues? Hopefully, we will never have to find out. The principle of the free movement of goods, services, people and capital on the EU’s internal market is a cornerstone of the Union that we should continue to develop – not restrict.
Our Union has come a long way from endless disputes at border stations, looking for excuses to constrict the arteries of trade that fill the economy of the EU with strength and prosperity. The day-to-day functioning of the internal market benefits us all as Europeans, and to my knowledge there is now only one commodity that is lawfully produced, sold and consumed in one member state, and exported all over the world, that still cannot be sold in the rest of the EU – the special form of tobacco for oral use known as Swedish snuff, or snus.
The unanswered trade question
Swedish snus was outlawed in the EU in 1989, six years before Sweden became a member of the Union in 1995 and four years before the establishment of the internal market in 1993. Upon our accession to the EU we reluctantly had to settle for a permanent derogation from this prohibition.
But a partial revocation of the ban is not enough. Since then, the Swedish parliament, the Swedish government and an overwhelming majority of the Swedish people have been consistently united in their desire to abolish the ban. A survey conducted in late 2008 showed that eight out of ten Swedes believe it is wrong that snus is treated differently than cigarettes, and 20% stated that the ban is negatively affecting their view of the EU. In November last year, I – as Sweden’s trade minister – tried to initiate a discussion with the European Commission by writing to Charlie McCreevy, the European commissioner responsible for the internal market and services. I asked him if he thought that the ban on snus could be regarded as consistent with the principles of the internal market. I also made it clear that in my view it is obvious that the ban is disproportionate and has discriminatory effects.
The Commission has still not responded in substance to my concerns. The only reply so far has come from the commissioner for health, Androulla Vassiliou, in early February. However, she did not address any of my primary questions, which spring from the fundamental principles of the entire European Union and should be treated accordingly.
A scientific case without a scientific base
Sweden has the same right as any member state to raise issues that are of concern to our citizens, influence the terms of trade for our industry and are matters of fundamental principle. And the Commission has an obligation to acknowledge the legitimacy of our concerns and make an appropriate response.
Instead I was referred to a report from the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) published by the Commission in February 2008. Based on the inconclusive findings of this report, the commissioner stated that snus causes cancer, is addictive and might be a gateway to other forms of tobacco use. The Commission therefore does not at this stage envisage proposing any changes, I was told.
But, first of all, the SCENIHR report does not establish a scientific basis for banning snus. The claims that Swedish snus is a major cause of cancer have not been scientifically proven in a satisfactory way.
Secondly, the directive that bans Swedish snus stipulates that any tobacco product less harmful than the ones already allowed should be included in every review. This is something the Commission so far has failed to do.
The Commission’s case for acting as guardian of Swedes’ health is unproven. As for its role as guardian of the principle of free trade and every member state’s equal right of access to the internal market, it has failed to prove a clear answer as to why the ban on snus is reasonable. The ban has not been sufficiently discussed from the point of view of free movement of goods in the EU. Swedes need an answer that is reasonable, fair and just in the light of the principles of the internal market,
Ewa Björling is Sweden’s minister for trade
The Evidence Says That Snus Should Not Be Banned!
In recent months, you have published a debate on cigarette labelling and also on whether the EU should continue to bar snus – Swedish snuff – beyond Sweden’s borders (“Cut out the smoke, reduce the risks” and “More tobacco is not the answer”, 16-22 May). I would like to add my voice to those who have pointed out that the ban on snus is difficult to understand from the point of view of science-based quantitative risk assessment, all the more so since the EU permits the sale of nasal snuff and chewing tobacco that are far more hazardous than the outlawed Swedish oral moist snuff.
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