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May, 2009
U.S. Tobacco Cooperative

Can Sweden Sell the EU on Snus?

The eyes of the tobacco world have turned to the north. Has some lab been able to create a hearty new breed of tobacco that can thrive in frigid arctic climates? Not yet. However, the tobacco world has moved its attention up towards Stockholm which might be the key to something nearly as rare as a polar bear in a tobacco field: snus in the EU.

Sweden will take over the rotating EU presidency this July. While there are many issues Sweden hopes to bring to the multi-national table, Trade Minister Ewa Bjorling is leading the charge to alter the EU’s prohibition of snus. Snus, a traditional Swedish fermented tobacco product, are banned from sales throughout the Union except in Sweden, which had the sales of snus grandfathered in as a legally-traded cultural item when they entered the Union in 1995. In the last few years, snus have started to gain interest from tobacco companies around the world looking to diversify away from a pure cigarette portfolio. While the EU may have liked to implement a Union-wide smoking ban, the abundance of cigarette smokers would have prohibited this. Oddly enough, many public health experts promote snus as a way to get cigarette smokers off of combustible goods to a scientifically-proven safer nicotine fix. (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.)

Multi-nationals (and some local companies) have been experimenting with snus releases in North America and South Africa to varying degrees of success. It is unlikely that, if snus were to become legal for trade, that they would ever reach the popularity of cigarettes. Snus “consumption” is a private event, like chewing gum, that doesn’t provide the ritual and socialization cigarettes can provide. Snus will, if allowed to market, only gain prominence as a safer alternative to cigarettes that will help ween people off combustible goods. There remains no good reason that snus should remain prohibited in the EU, aside from assuaging the tobacco-phobia that exists in much of the western world. It will be interesting to see if Ms. Bjorling’s charge can open up a massive new field of play for the industry’s great snus experiment.

- E. D.

Tobacco International - May, 2009

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