Winner of The Global Smoke-Free Race: Sweden, Reduces Tax on Snus by 20% 

Whilst already reaching the much sought after smoke-free goal, Sweden has taken another progressive step towards reducing the harm caused by combustible tobacco, by decreasing the tax on snus.

A report released earlier this year, had highlighted that at around this time, Sweden’s smoking rate would be dropping below 5%, and detailed the approach which led to this success. Titled, “Leading the way to a smoke-free Europe: The experience of Sweden,” the paper highlighted nations’s holistic and progressive approach.

Sweden has implemented the WHO Framework Convention for Tobacco Control as well as EU legislation and recommendations to the highest standards, with a large focus on prevention. However, in addition Sweden has also put a great emphasis on incorporating tobacco harm reduction (THR) strategies which endorse the use of novel nicotine products, namely snus. Anders Milton, one of the report’s authors, highlighted that if other EU countries copied Sweden’s strategy, the situation in Europe would look very different.

Pressures to place harsh restrictions on snus
Sadly, this data has largely fallen on deaf ears. Ignoring the report, last July Swedish Public Health Agency, Folkhälsomyndigheten, had called for stronger regulations of nicotine products such as snus and vapes, the exact products which have been credited for the impressive drop in smoking rates.

Reiterating this argument, the World Vapers’ Alliance (WVA) had highlighted that these recommendations would be a step backwards for Sweden. “It is a tragedy for public health when a country’s leading health agency fails to acknowledge the harm reduction potential of snus and vaping. The main objective has been overlooked: reducing the number of smokers and tackling smoking-induced illnesses. Vaping is not smoking and must not be treated the same. Regulation must be drafted to encourage current smokers to switch to these less harmful alternatives,” said WVA director Michael Landl.

Similarly, the European Union (EU) has been pressuring Sweden to ban and/or tax snus for years. In fact, snus is banned all over Europe with the exception of Sweden. Thankfully, the Scandinavian country has been impressively standing its ground and ignoring these pressures. In fact, the Swedish government has just announced a plan to reduce the tax on snus by 20%, whilst increasing the tax on cigarettes and smoking tobacco by 9%.

Landl called Sweden’s approach “exemplary” given it aims to move its already reached smoke-free target further ahead, by making less harmful alternatives such as snus more accessible. “Sweden is not just theorizing harm reduction; it’s effectively implementing it. It’s time for the EU to take a leaf out of Sweden’s book.”

The EU keeps its blinkers on                                    The WVA director told Vaping Post that in contrast, the EU remains far behind. “I think there is still no movement anywhere in the EU. There are some voices in the UK who are pushing for legalization, but within the EU, my hopes are pretty low.”
Vaping Post asked whether there is any progress similar to the one in Sweden, in other Scandinavian countries. “No not really,” replied Swedish reporter and expert in political developments with regards to tobacco harm reduction (THR), Stefan Mathisson. However, he highlighted that the Finnish government for one, seems to be tactfully and indirectly aiming to move towards THR.

“Finland has a ban on traditional snus intact [the ban which its forced to implement by the EU] BUT, the new government are actually overriding the health authorities wishes in regulating nicotine pouches as a consumer product (it was a medicalized product until March/April this year – you could get it on prescription with low levels of nicotine). The idea is to tax the pouches ‘to handle the harms from use’ but the story is really a subtle move towards harm reduction from the new government.” Moreover, added Mathisson, “There is also a movement among younger politicians to act on the issue.”
The Swedish expert also explained that the stance of Norway is somewhat contradictory.“The government in Norway are very much anti-harm reduction when it comes to the narrative. They do however acknowledge the use of snus, nicotine pouches and e-cigarettes as “harm reduction” without really questioning it.” Meanwhile, he added, local authorities are planning to ban e-cigarettes and e-liquid, but not nicotine pouches or snus.
With regards to whether there is any evidence of these governments taking note of Sweden’s success, the Swedish expert replied with a resounding no. “Accept for what is really happening on the market. The “tax” argument in Finland, for example, is due to massive imports and a huge black market for the products imported from Sweden,” concluded Mathisson.