One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
Sweden looks set to reach the near-mythical smoking prevalence rate of 5% this year.
But as ever, meddling EU bureaucrats seem determined to undo all that excellent work with questionable policies like a high nicotine pouch tax and a flavour ban.
As reported by the Financial Times last year, the European Commission plans to make changes to the 2011 tobacco taxation directive. These plans include raising taxes on cigarettes, vapes, heated tobacco, and nicotine pouches.
While this is an EU-wide issue, it’s worth looking at in the Swedish context. When Sweden joined the EU, Snus was not part of the discussions. Oral tobacco was illegal in Europe, so it was agreed that EU regulations would not affect the popular cigarette alternative product. However, nicotine pouches are not outside the regulator’s glare.
The exact duty the EU wants to place on nicotine pouches is unclear. Writing in Snusjournalen, Haypp Group’s Markus Lindblad suggests the hike could be as much as “several hundred per cent.” What’s more, the directive is likely to include a flavour ban.
Both proposals are horrible ideas that don’t work. Let’s pick them apart individually.
Excise on harm reduction products
For several reasons, imposing a tax duty on cigarette harm-reduction products is a provably bad idea. The consequences of an excise duty are that it:
• Encourages users of smoke-free products to return to cigarettes.
• Increases the likelihood that consumers will buy unregulated black market products.
• Blocks pathways for current smokers to quit.
Swedish citizens are already grappling with high inflation and a cost of living crisis. Smoking is a problem that disproportionally affects lower-income communities. Disincentivising the use of harm-reduction products will harm public health. It’s that simple.
Flavour bans are another misguided EU policy idea. Their argument rests on the mistaken assumption that only youth vapers like sweet or fruit flavourings. Research does not bear this thesis out.
Not that it should necessarily even take hard data to test this assumption. Adults of all ages enjoy sweet flavours in products of all kinds. Youths make up a small part of the smoke-free product market. After all, it is illegal for people under 18 to buy these products. Are we meant to believe that nicotine pouch manufacturers base their entire product line on a small market they can’t legally sell to? Absurd.
The fact is that ex-smokers have been vocal about a choice of flavours being instrumental in their bids to give up cigarettes. Again, restricting these options hurts adults who want to embrace a healthier life.
The expert view
I spoke to Carissa During, head of Considerate Pouchers Sweden, to get her view on the EU’s latest policy fumblings. In particular, I was concerned with the institution’s inability to learn from the success of others when it comes to smoke-free policies. If this was unchartered territory, you could forgive some of these errors. But these unelected policymakers are actively ignoring precedent in the case of Sweden’s smoke-free success.
As Carissa points out, “If you want to achieve a goal—the reasonable course of action would be to consult a person who has already achieved what you want to achieve and then take the same steps as they did. Doing the exact opposite of that would be regarded as peak stupidity. Nevertheless, this is exactly what the European Union is considering doing.
Sweden is the only country in the EU about to reach the goal of becoming smoke-free and reaping the health benefits from it, with 22% fewer smoke-related deaths compared with the EU average. Flavours and affordability have played a huge role in helping Sweden achieve this goal. If the EU wants to beat smoking, the reasonable thing to do is follow in Sweden’s footsteps.”
The main motivation for the regulation is to prevent young people from using nicotine pouches. It’s a legitimate concern. However, the real consequence of a flavour ban is that adults will continue to smoke and consequently die from smoke-related diseases. The EU needs to be able to keep two thoughts in mind at the same time. We can’t have regulation that backfires the way a flavour ban does, resulting in deaths that could have been prevented.”
What else is there to say? The EU is casually playing with the health and lives of the citizens it’s meant to protect, some of them in the most vulnerable economic groups. It’s outrageous, and we shouldn’t tolerate it.
What can Swedish and EU citizens do to stop these bad policies?
There are over 1 million snus and nicotine pouch users in Sweden. Together, they can form a powerful voice. Snusbloget.se has a petition that users can sign to ensure they retain access to affordable products in the flavours they want. You can find the petition here.
So, get out there and sign it. The EU loves to sound the horn on democracy, representation, and the health and well-being of its citizens. So let’s put their feet to the fire.
Read more about Considerate Pouchers here – https://consideratepouchers.org.
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