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May, 2009

Seeking Changes on EU ban on Smokeless Tobacco

Stockholm - As Stockholm prepares to host the rotating EU presidency in July, Swedish Trade Minister, Ewa Bjorling is spearheading a campaign to lift the bloc's prohibition on snus, a moist tobacco product as steeped in Swedish tradition as pickled herring or crispbread.

For years Sweden fought a lonely battle against the directive that bars sales of snus in all EU countries except Sweden. But the government's renewed snuff crusade comes amid growing debate internationally about smokeless tobacco's potential as a less harmful alternative for smokers who fail to shake the nicotine habit.

Pragmatists say snus should be allowed to compete with nicotine replacement products in the effort to snub out the much bigger threat of cigarettes. According to a study published in 2007 in the medical journal, Lancet, smokers are 10 times more likely to get lung cancer than snus users. Some public health officials argue that legalizing snus would lower global cancer rates.

Snus are also legal in the US and South Africa, where big tobacco companies like Altria Group Inc. and Reynolds American Inc. are marketing smokeless tobacco products aggressively, mindful of falling demand for cigarettes. The EU, however, banned oral snuff in 1992 in a directive primarily aimed at US-made snuff products that researchers found caused mouth cancer. Sweden got an exemption when it joined the union three years later, but the ban remained elsewhere, even though snus makers insisted they use a different manufacturing process that reduces the level of carcinogens.

Sweden, a country of 9 mn has one of the lowest rates of smoking and lung cancer in the industrial world, and snus is widely recognized as part of the reason. The Swedish National Institute of Public Health last month said that only 11% of Swedish men and 14% of women smoke on a daily basis. Meanwhile, 19% of men and 4% of women are daily snus users.

Even if the EU ban were lifted, it's doubtful that millions of Europeans would rush to stuff their faces with a tobacco product that takes some getting used to. Even in Sweden, the bulging upper lips are not considered very attractive outside the snus community. The biggest effect would probably be along neighboring Finland's west coast and the Aland islands, where snus has made inroads among the ethnic Swedish minority.

Bangladesh to Increase Tax on Cigarettes, Other Tobacco Products
Dhaka - The Bangladeshi government will increase tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products in the next fiscal year (starting July 2009) budget, a senior official said on Sunday. During a recent meeting with a local research organization Unnayan Samannay (Development Coordination), Chairman of the Bangladesh's National Board of Revenue (NBR) Abdul Mazid said the purpose of increasing tax on cigarettes and tobacco products is not to boost revenue earning but to protect public health.

Sao Paul Tax Increases, Possible Ban
Sao Paulo - A recent report said the Sao Paulo government may raise cigarette taxes and Sao Paulo State approved a law banning smoking indoors. The government plans to raise taxes on alcoholic drinks and may also increase cigarette tariffs to make up for tax breaks in other sectors, such as autos and durable goods, O Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper reported.

Federal Finance Minister Guido Mantega announced the Brazilian government would raise cigarette taxes. The higher tax would increase prices by as much as 30%.

Sao Paulo State is the most populous in the country, with 40 million inhabitants, and concentrates more than 30 percent of Brazil's gross domestic product, according to the state's Web site.

Ads to Target Cigarette Smuggling
Ottawa - Ottawa has turned up the heat in its fight against illegal smokes. The Canada Revenue Agency will launch an advertising campaign on the problem of tobacco smuggling, the minister of national revenue recently announced at a meeting of convenience store owners in Laval, Que.

Convenience store owner Sid Chedrawe, chairman of the Independent Food Stores Association, said the ads will focus on the increased health risks of illegal cigarettes. "The general public couldn't give a care in the world about government, let alone Revenue Canada,” he said. “But you don't want to take useless, needless risks with your health by smoking this kind of product. The tobacco may not be proper tobacco. The tobacco may not be stored properly. There may be items found in the tobacco."

Dutch Most Opposed to Smoking Ban
Amsterdam - Some 52% of the Dutch are opposed to a total ban on smoking in bars and cafes, making them the most pro public smoking in Europe, according to European Commission research.

In Italy only 6% are against a ban. The European average is 32%. A spokeswoman for the Dutch anti-smoking group Stivoro told the Volkskrant that it may be that the health arguments against smoking have become lost in the Netherlands. The media focus has been on the economic effects of the ban on bars, she said.

Only 66% of the Dutch support a ban on smoking in restaurants, compared with a European average of 79%. In Italy almost everyone supports a smoke-free eating environment, the research showed.

Plans to Divest from Tobacco
Oslo - Norway has proposed new ethical guidelines that will see its Government Pension Fund, Europe's largest pension fund, exit tobacco investments. The plan lumps the tobacco industry amongst other planned “ethical” divestments such as companies that manufacture landmines, deal with massive carbon emissions, and are associated with child labor.

Pending parliamentary approval, the fund would start selling its shares in tobacco producers over a two-month period. The fund owned shares in tobacco companies such as Altria, Phillip Morris, and British American Tobacco at the end of 2008, according to the fund's last public report.

Despite Bans, Smoking on the Rise
Demascus - Smokers in Syria burn up about $600 mn on tobacco and cigarettes each year, despite a ban on advertising and smoking in public, according to recently-published statistics.

"Smokers annually spend about 26 bn Syrian pounds ($600 mn)," the state news agency SANA said, quoting a report by an official Syrian tobacco institution.

"Each smoker spends about eight percent of his income to buy 3.6 kgs (about eight lbs) of tobacco," it said. The number of smokers in the Middle Eastern country has gone up by 15%, it said without elaborating, despite government attempts to counter the trend.

SANA said up to 60% of men and 24% of women still light up in Syria, which has a population approaching 20 mn and where nargileh, or water pipes, are becoming increasingly popular.

A law came into force in 2006 banning smoking in public places and on public transport, and a year ago Syria introduced a ban on tobacco sales to those under the age of 19.

Tobacco International - May, 2009

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