Can legislation protect young people from snus and snus-like products?

during countries of Sweden are increasingly using snus, although snus is legal only on the Swedish and Norwegian market. A new research article investigates how snus, including strong snus and strong snus-like nicotine products, are regulated in the Nordic countries and Estonia and how young people in the neighbouring countries of Sweden could be better protected from these products by regulatory means.

During the last decade, the use of snus and more recently the use of snus-like nicotine pouches has become common among young people in the Nordic countries and Estonia. The flavours, slim sachets and packaging make these products appealing to young people. Both snus and snus-like nicotine pouches also include products with extremely high nicotine contents.

Nicotine is addictive and harmful to health, especially to the developing body, including the brain. Snus also has negative effects on cardiovascular health, increases the risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome, impairs oral health, and imposes risks both on the mother and the baby.

Snus includes at least 28 carcinogens. In our article, Snus and snus-like nicotine products moving across Nordic borders: Can laws protect young people? published in Nordic Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, we explore the regulatory context of protecting young people from snus and nicotine pouches by EU and national legislation.

Snus crosses borders through traveller imports and smuggling

Snus is not allowed on the market in the European Union (EU) except in Sweden. Snus is also allowed on the market in Norway. On entry into the European Community, Sweden obtained an exemption relating to the prohibition of placing snus on the market. In conjunction with this exemption, Sweden assumed the responsibility to ensure that Swedish snus is not available on the market in other Member States. Still, snus enters Estonia, Denmark, and Finland from Sweden as traveller imports or is smuggled through the open internal borders.

The permitted amount of traveller import for personal use is particularly high in Finland: 1000 grams per 24 hours. The study also found that snus is sold on Finnish ferries sailing between Sweden and Finland via the Åland Islands. This is in violation of Directive 2014/40/EU and a Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruling on the matter (Case C-343/05).

Snus is regulated under Swedish national laws

The objective of protecting public health is firmly anchored in the foundations of the EU. According to CJEU, the importance of that objective, in particular, with regard to protecting young people is such that it justifies even substantial negative economic consequences (Case C‑221/10, Para. 99 and the case law cited).

The Tobacco Products Directive (2014/40/EU) aims for a high level of public health protection and, in particular, the protection of young people. The directive sets strict limits for maximum levels of nicotine and other substances in tobacco and related products, and prohibits the placing on the market of tobacco products with a characterizing flavour. These conditions do not apply to snus, as it is regulated by Swedish national legislation, primarily under food law, which does not restrict the levels of nicotine nor the flavours that appeal to young people.

While the legislation in Sweden conforms with the terms of the exemption, the public health impact of snus use on young people in the neighbouring countries of Sweden is currently considerable. The availability of snus in a great variety of flavours and packaging especially aimed at young users highlights the public health impact of the Swedish exemption. This, together with large-scale smuggling of snus, raises whether the exemption obtained by Sweden can be justified from a public health and internal market perspective. Given that the Accession Treaty may be difficult to change, it should be considered how Sweden could be made to share the burden of preventing illegal exports of snus on its borders.

New snus products on the market

The emergence on the market of strong snus-resembling nicotine pouches is alarming. We found that the regulation of nonmedical nicotine pouches is not harmonized at the EU level, and regulation also differs between the Nordic countries. The divergent regulative approaches between countries make enforcement difficult and contribute to the increasing negative health impact of these products on young people in particular. Also, EU and national legislation should be able to protect young people from new tobacco and nicotine products. It is therefore urgent to harmonize regulation relating to these products and to promote a high level of protection of human health as laid out in the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU.