Two startling statistics emerge from a recent survey of smokers in Europe conducted by ETHRA (European Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates): nearly one in three (31%) of current smokers would be interested in trying snus if it became legal, but less than 3% are actually snus users.
Given the almost incontrovertible evidence from Sweden – the only EU country where snus is legal, for idiosyncratic historical reasons – of the oral format’s success in reducing tobacco-related disease, this huge potential demand seems to represent a huge public health opportunity.
If snus became legal EU-wide, then even if only a relatively small fraction of that 31% gave up combustibles in its favour, that would represent an advance in net health benefits that the creators of most smoking-cessation campaigns can only dream of.
But the EU was reluctant at the formulation of the last Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) to endorse snus, and likely will remain the same as the next TPD is devised.
As so often with tobacco control, it’s not just a question of the real-life bottom line; the optics are all-important too, and the time is simply not propitious for legalising a previously illegal form of tobacco. The turning of opinion in many circles against e-cigarettes, which the last TPD regulated, won’t have helped either – who wants to risk being held responsible for a teen snus epidemic, even if it’s an imaginary one?
Perhaps the UK, now no longer bound by EU regulation, will be the country to follow Sweden. A new tobacco control plan is being drawn up there too, and as one member of parliament said recently: “We shouldn’t limit our response to one weapon. Nicotine pouches, heated tobacco and other alternative products are there to be used and their efficacy and utility should be the subject of urgent study.”
After all, the UK public health establishment has remained pretty resolute in its support for vaping, despite all the bad press. And though the legalisation of snus sales in Britain would be very unlikely to encourage the EU to follow suit, it might be enough to encourage other, non-EU nations to embrace this promising tobacco alternative.
– Barnaby Page TobaccoIntelligence staff