Joseph Hart 6 October 2023

 

Charlie Weimier, the Swedish Democrat and Member of the European Parliament (MEP) has exposed the EU’s plan to extend the controversial, misguided, and scientifically questionable oral tobacco ban to include nicotine pouches.

In a post on X (formerly Twitter), Weimier shared screenshots of a document sent to EU member states by the European Commission’s consultancy on the Tobacco Product Directive. The report was sent out this week.

, The EU is coming for Nicotine Pouches, according to leaked documents, The Daily Pouch

English translation –

“Secret report – The EU Commission plans to ban white snus in Sweden
A secret report that I shouldn’t have received has landed on my desk. The report, which will be presented to the EU member states this week, contains two notable statements: (1) praise for the success of the snus ban and (2) a recommendation for the EU to extend the snus ban to include tobacco-free white snus (nicotine pouches).
Claiming that the EU’s snus ban is a success is completely wrong. In fact, it is snus that has enabled Sweden to be the only country in the EU on track to achieve the UN’s goal of a smoke-free society (defined as less than 5% smokers), which has saved many lives. A ban on white snus would be a severe blow to the efforts to eradicate smoking in the EU.
Unfortunately, the Swedish exemption for tobacco snus does not apply to nicotine pouches. If the EU Commission and member states accept the recommendation in the report, white snus will also be prohibited in Sweden. Men have largely chosen to quit smoking in favor of snus, while women seeking less harmful alternatives often choose white snus. Therefore, such a ban would disproportionately affect women.
The report was written by consultants working for DG SANTE (EU’s health bureaucrats), and these statements probably wouldn’t have made their way into the report without the support of the bureaucrats. This is likely a test balloon from the bureaucracy. If the proposal is rejected by the member states, the bureaucrats can blame the consultants, and if the proposal faces no opposition, the bureaucrats can interpret it as clear support and continue working on a formal proposal. This is often how things are done in EU bureaucracy.
Therefore, the government must clarify at this week’s meeting that our country opposes a ban on white snus and work to ensure that citizens continue to have the option to choose the least harmful way to use nicotine. Our negotiators should also raise the question of the risks to public health posed by having too many self-righteous bureaucrats in DG SANTE.”

There are two significant points of note within this document.

(i) The usual self-congratulation and back-slapping about how the EU’s oral tobacco ban has successfully controlled the market. The authors seem blissfully unaware of how one place that they couldn’t ban snus now has a smoking prevalence rate of 5%. That’s compared to the EU average of around 20%.

I ask you, in what world is it better to ban a product that has been shown to reduce smoking rates? The EU has a well-earned reputation for the obtuse, but this might be a new low.

(ii) A recommendation that the EU should extend its failed oral tobacco policy and apply it to nicotine pouches by banning the harm reduction product across Europe.

Again, this is just outrageous stuff from the EU. Sweden is a shining example of how to slash smoking rates. But because their solution was more complicated than simply telling people to “just quit,” it doesn’t count as an example of “following the science.”

What’s going on here?

Firstly, these proposals have come from a consultancy group that is part of these workshops. However, while it provides some distance from the EU, it immediately calls into question their judgement to work with a group that is ideologically driven by puritanical viewpoints. We should all be suspicious of intolerant people who have an axe to grind and view workshops as a vehicle for their Temperance movement activism.

It’s no doubt more of the usual mammy state, protecting us from ourselves rhetoric. Instead of ensuring that citizens have access to the right information and alternative products, they’d prefer to make decisions on our behalf and tell us what we should think.

Unlike the EU, I don’t think the average citizen is stupid. In fact, the majority of people will make the right choices when they have good information and access to healthier alternatives. We can’t let them take nicotine pouches off the table.

The plot thickens

There is another wrinkle to these leaked documents. The EU has been revising its Tobacco Product Directives over the last few years. This week, they have two workshops, which is where the leaked papers have come from. One workshop is set up for member states; the other focuses on economic stakeholders. 

However, as the leaked documents show, each group is getting slightly different information. The Commission is showing its characteristic lack of transparency by cloaking its intent to extend the EU-wide snus ban to nicotine pouches.

Now, of course, a part of the role of any government body is to balance private and public interests. But this is a case of deliberately withholding information from economically interested businesses so they can be blindsided by potential legislation is a monstrous misuse of these consultations and workshops, which, lest we forget, are funded by our tax money.

On top of this, their plan to hurt private interests is not in the public interest. It’s not even within the EU’s stated interests of achieving a “smoke-free” society. The ban is aimed at products that can greatly impact public health and mortality by reducing smoking and cancer rates. Who are these proposals meant to help?

Final thoughts

Everyone makes mistakes. However, it takes a certain kind of organisation to look at their past missteps and congratulate themselves for them. As leaked EU documents show, they believe the oral tobacco ban was such a great move that it should be extended to nicotine pouches. 

The success of the oral tobacco ban is a matter of perspective. If the EU defines success by the lack of availability of snus across the EU, then yes, they have done well. However, if you look at the ban through the lens of the EU nation’s average 19% smoking prevalence vs. Sweden’s 5%, then it’s hard to be so smug. 

Europe banned oral tobacco and watched on as Sweden’s smoking rates dropped. Nicotine pouches are a rare second chance, but the EU lacks the foresight or the humility to see it.