Christian Engström, Pirat

13 januari 2013

Why a Pirate Would Care About Snus (And Electronic Cigarettes)

Filed under: demokrati i eu,English,snus — Christian Engström @ 15:59
Snus med eukalyptussmak har hjälpt min fru sluta röka

Eucalyptus flavoured snus has helped my wife stop smoking

(This is a translation of an article in Swedish)

Before he resigned
in a corruption scandal over the Swedish traditional smoke-free tobacco product snus, ex-commissioner John Dalli drafted a revision of the tobacco products directive, which the European Commission has now presented.

The draft directive contains a continued ban on the sale of snus outside Sweden (Sweden has a permanent exception to this ban), and a ban on flavours like eucalyptus and mint in any tobacco products (including snus sold in Sweden). It also contains a ban on the electronic cigarettes that are beginning to come to the market.

None of these policies make any sense.

I use snus, and I think it’s inconvenient and idiotic that I can’t buy snus when I’m in Brussels or Strasbourg, when I can buy both cigarettes (that are far more harmful to my health) and most other kinds of smokeless tobacco, even though Swedish snus is less harmful that these as well. But the issue is not whether it would be convenient for Swedes to be able to buy snus in Europe if they have forgotten to bring a few boxes from home.

From a Pirate Party perspective, there are three important aspects:

– The Fight Against Corruption
The Commissioner responsible for drafting the tobacco directive, John Dalli, demanded through an intermediary that snus manufacturer Swedish Match should pay a bribe of 60 million euro to get the ban on snus lifted. When Swedish Match refused, and instead reported it to the EU anti-corruption bureau OLAF, OLAF did an investigation and gave it to the president of the European Commission Mr. Barroso. Barroso read the report, called a meeting with Dalli, and had Dalli resign with immediate effect.

So for in the story is as it should be in the fight against corruption in the EU. Swedish Match acted in an exemplary manner when they reported the corruption instead of just accepting it as a cost of doing business and paying (which would possibly have been the most profitable thing to do from a strict business perspective). President Barroso also acted in an exemplary manner when he immediately fired Dalli after he had read the report that proved that Dalli had tried to solicit bribes.

But after this, things have gone wrong in the European Commission’s handling of the case. First, Barroso has kept the report from the anti-corruption bureau OLAF secret. This has given Dalli and those who have an interest in denying the corruption the chance to spread rumors about what really happened, and these rumors have been allowed to spread unopposed. Presidet Barroso should make the OLAF report public immediately, to defend both his own reputation and that of his commission. As usual, more transparency by the European Commission is needed.

But second, and perhaps even more importantly, the commission has done nothing at all to assess how Dalli’s corruption affected the contents of the tobacco directive. Instead, the commission has put all its efforts into rushing the directive though as quickly as possible in the shape that Dalli wanted it, including the ban on snus. What signal does this send to other companies that will come across corruption in the future, if even after the corruption has been disclosed and the corrupt official has been forced to resign, the whistle-blowing company still won’t get a fair treatment?

”Bribes are illegal, but if you don’t pay you only have yourself to blame” is the message that the European Commission is sending. If that becomes how this story ends, it will have serious consequences for the future. They all companies will know that they will only hurt themselves if they report corruption, and that the sensible thing to do is to shut up and pay.

This is not the message we should be sending.

– Evidence Based Policy Making
Nobody claims that snus is a healthy product in itself, but it is a lot less dangerous than smoking. This is something all scientific studies that compare the health effects of snus with smoking agree on. Snus has helped a lot of Swedes, especially men, to either stop smoking completely, or at least reduce their smoking significantly.

Sweden has the lowest percentage of smokers among men in Europe. This has led to Swedish men having the lowest mortality rate in cardiovascular deceases and lung cancer caused by smoking.

Smokers who try to quit by switching to snus have a higher success rate than those who try using other nicotine replacement products, such as nicotine patches or chewing gum.

An article in the medical research journal The Lancet summarizes:

Current smokers who switch to using snus rather than continuing to smoke can realise substantial health gains. Snus could produce a net benefit to health at the population level if it is adopted in sufficient numbers by inveterate smokers. Relaxing current restrictions on the sale of snus is more likely to produce a net benefit than harm, with the size of the benefit dependent on how many inveterate smokers switch to snus.

The European Commission completely ignores this. It doesn’t really matter whether the reason is corruption, lobbyism, or just a lack of interests in facts within this part of the commission — the end result is in any case that we get a policy based on special interests and moralistic ideology rather than facts and medical science.

This is diametrically opposed to all the beautiful words that the European Commission is fond of saying when they talk about ”evidence based policy making”. That evidence based policy making is particularly important on issues concerning public health is even written into the tobacco directive itself. But this principle is not applied in practice.

I have asked both the European Commission and the anti-snus lobbyists what scientific studies they are basing their opposition to snus on. Both have completely refused to answer. Their only interest is to push through the continued ban on snus as quickly as possible, although this policy has no support in scientific research.

– Harm Reducition for Drugs
The Swedish Pirate Party wants to decriminalize personal use and possession for all drugs, including hard drugs. Instead, we want society to use its resources on offering effective treatment to addicts who ask for it themselves. The guiding star for the policy should be harm reduction, not harassment of those unlucky enough to have ended up with an addiction, and not utopian visions of ”zero tolerance” that hurt more than they help in practice.

The same principle should apply to tobacco regulation. Everybody agrees that tobacco smoking is very harmful to health, and in a perfect world nobody would smoke. When tobacco is burning in a cigarette hundreds of harmful substances are released, and the smoke harms both lungs and heart. But although all smokers are fully aware of this, and many would want to stop smoking, many who try have a hard time getting rid of their nicotine addiction.

Snus is a tobacco product, and it contains nicotine, but it is between 90 and 99 per cent less dangerous than cigarettes. Every smoker who succeeds in giving up smoking by switching to snus recieves a great health benefit. Not using anything at all is of course the best, but it is hard to stop smoking, and most smokers fail when they try to stop ”cold turkey”.

The experience from Sweden shows that snus gives many smokers a way out from cigarette addiction. This is something positive for public health, and something the EU should learn from instead of trying to ban. The only responsible tobacco policy goal is to try to save lives.

In Sweden, many men have saved their lives by switching to snus, but fewer women, since snus use is not as common among women yet. Traditionally, snus was a product that was used by men, and many women find the traditional snus flavours unpleasant.

For this reason it is a positive thing that snus manufacturers are introducing alternative flavours, such as eucalyptus, mint, or licorice, to offer an alternative also to women who want to stop smoking. Banning these flavourings in tobacco products, as the tobacco directive wants, is in practice a way to make it more difficult for women who want to quit smoking. This is both unethical and stupid.

The same applies to the new electronic cigarettes that are beginning to appear on the market. Ex-commissioner Dalli’s tobacco directive want to ban electronic cigarettes as well, even though they appear to have a great potential as yet another way to escape cigarette addiction by switching to a less harmful substitute. What works and what doesn’t varies from individual to individual, so the more choices for harm reduction products smokers who want to quit have, the more will succeed in the end.

Ideologically motivated ”zero tolerance” is just cynical when it leads to people dying unnecessarily in practice. Public health policy should not be decided by who has the least tolerance, but by what saves lives.


Declaration of interest: I am a snus user, which has allowed me to cut down my smoking drastically, even though I have not stopped completely yet. My wife used to smoke, but gave it up completely several years ago by switching to eucalyptus flavoured snus.

Picture by Christian Engström, free for publication Creative Commons CC0

9 kommentarer

  1. […] (This is a translation of an article in Swedish) Before he resigned in a corruption scandal over the Swedish traditional smoke-free tobacco product snus, ex-commissioner John Dalli drafted a revisi…  […]

    Pingback av Why a Pirate Would Care About Snus (And Electronic Cigarettes) | Tobacco Harm Reduction | — 13 januari 2013 @ 17:54

  2. Nikotin är en mycket beroendeframkallande substans och precis som du säger är det bättre om det finns (relativt) ofarliga alternativ att tillgodose ett nikotin-beroende jämfört med rökning som beviserligen ger en väsentligt ökad risk för både för tidig och väldigt plågsam död.

    Kommentar av gurra — 13 januari 2013 @ 18:24

  3. Thank you for this informative article.

    What is not mentioned is that these bans are principally funded by the pharmaceutical industry, who are desperate to protect their income at all costs by preserving the status quo. The main income they need to protect is the $100bn annual market for the drug treatments for sick and dying smokers: chemotherapy drugs, COPD drugs, cardiac drugs, vascular drugs, plus a proportion of many other drug sales for diseases that can be exacerbated by smoking. Also the $3bn trade in NRTs and other quit-smoking pharmacotherapies, although this is a minor channel. We can see that such income sources shrank drastically in Sweden, and pharma is very keen to ensure the Sweden scenario does not spread.

    It is likely that the cigarette industry also contributes to a certain extent, but the main problem is corruption of officials by pharma. Although some official’s hidden offshore bank accounts have been exposed, the most likely method of corruption is the revolving door staff trick, where government agency staff take up a highly-paid position with pharma at a later date, as a reward for their corrupt actions while in public service. There might even be a non-executive board position waiting, either with pharma or a friendly lobbying group, that involves no work at all – a favourite pharma ploy.

    Any attempt to stop the murderous corruption within EU and national health committees must make transfer of staff between government and pharma or its puppet organisations absolutely illegal, as it is a direct route to corruption which avoids the papertrail left by payments to private bank accounts.

    Chris Price
    Secretary, ECCA UK

    Kommentar av Chris Price — 13 januari 2013 @ 21:21

  4. Wow, that is disgusting. Protecting a market which depends on treating terminal illnesses caused by tobacco smoke. I actually mainly thought it was about the market for quit-smoking products, but now that you mention it, of course it makes sense that if people don’t get lung cancer, there will be a much smaller market for related treatments and drugs.

    Kommentar av gurra — 14 januari 2013 @ 9:37

  5. Perhaps some perspective.

    I’m not a ”snus” user, and I fully accept the medical science conclusions presented here. I also believe in rational thought.


    Policy making is not all about evidence and rational thought, actually. Think, for example, if it would be proven scientifically that it is efficient to execute people for certain crimes. While it then would be rational to do so, I would have a hard time accepting it nevertheless. Some principles are worth it.

    Likewise, while some lives may be saved by instituting ever more intrusion in our private affairs, screeners, communications monitoring, cctv and all other things, as a matter of principle I’d be against it. Not because I have no regard for the lifes lost, but because it is how I want society to be arrainged.

    Of course we should look at evidence, but some policy making must be based on principle. The interesting question is where you draw the line.

    As far as ”snus” is concerned – let’s face it – Swedenmade a deal. ”Snus” would be allowed in Sweden (and Norway but they didn’t join), and we would aid in preventing the distribution of ”snus” as it was forbidden in the common market already then. That’s the deal, and obviously it’s a very delicate status quo that has been reached. If you upset the deal, what other parts of the treaty would then come into question.

    Obviously, given the scientific fact, this matter can be approached in another way. Ask the commission for funding for research projects in to smoking prevention with the aid of snus. Allow long-term snus-studies to be started in different member countries. Get an acceptance for snus in other countries – perhaps making it a controlled substance when the studies are complete.

    Kommentar av Johan Tjäder — 14 januari 2013 @ 12:53

  6. I started using electronic cigarettes over a year and a half ago. I went from a 30 a day smoker who had smoked for over 30 years to using electronic cigarettes exclusively over night and have not smoked a single cigarette since. I’d tried the various forms of nicotine replacement therapy (patches, gum etc) in previous attempts to stop smoking and found them ineffective and costly.

    The proposed limit of 4mg nicotine per ml in e-liquid would render electronic cigarettes as ineffective as NRT. I personally use 18mg/ml.

    Forcing smokers to either ‘quit or die’ is irresponsible policy making that will lead to deaths that can be directly attributed to such a policy. Sweden’s current ban on the sale of e-liquid in Sweden is also completely without justification.

    I sincerely hope that the Pirate Party along with other rational groups within the parliament will be mounting an effective and powerful reaction against this terrible proposal.

    Kommentar av Mike Johnson — 14 januari 2013 @ 13:08

  7. An important argument you have not mentioned in this text is that smoking is not only unhealthy for the person smoking but also for the people around him. Snus doesn’t have this side effect. I agree that people have the right inflict damage on there own health but not on that of others.

    Kommentar av Koen De Voegt (@KoenDV) — 14 januari 2013 @ 13:28

  8. @Johan T
    ”JT:- Obviously, given the scientific fact, this matter can be approached in another way. Ask the commission for funding for research projects in to smoking prevention with the aid of snus. Allow long-term snus-studies to be started in different member countries. Get an acceptance for snus in other countries – perhaps making it a controlled substance when the studies are complete.”

    Good points Johan – but all this already exists now. There are almost 30 years of epidemiology, national health statistics, more than 150 clinical studies, and even giant-scale meta-analyses of the data, all examining these specific issues. In fact there couldn’t be more science, both in terms of official statistics or research. There is a veritable data mountain and nothing more can be done in terms of the science.

    Even the pharmaceutical industry itself uses it, it is so valuable: in order to have their NRTs licensed for long-term use, they have used the Snus data to show that long-term ad lib nicotine consumption over decades is extremely low risk. So not only the science is telling us it’s safe, even pharma backs that. They couldn’t use NRT data because it is restricted in scope and only short-term compared to the huge volume of Snus scientific data from several decades.

    I’m afraid you will have to go back to the core reason Snus is banned and ecigs soon will be: officials bought by pharma and the cigarette trade in order to protect industry income. There simply is no other explanation for public health decisions that will deliberately kill hundreds of thousands of people.

    I describe this situation as ‘murderous corruption’ and make no apology for doing so.

    Kommentar av Chris Price — 14 januari 2013 @ 13:38

  9. Reblogged this on Urbansundstrom’s Weblog.

    Kommentar av urbansundstrom — 17 januari 2013 @ 21:14

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Skapa en gratis webbplats eller blogg på

%d bloggare gillar detta: