The case to overturn the ban on snus in the EU now reaches a new important milestone – a hearing at the European Court of Justice on 25th January (Case number = C-151/17).
Last year the ECJ asked all EU states and the EU Institutions to comment on the case. The court received five responses. On the 25th January our lawyer gets a brief opportunity to expand on our case before the court. Other parties also get this opportunity. And it IS brief – 15 minutes or so to put the main arguments.
But that’s not the end of the court process: after the hearing the Advocate General assigned to the case examines the arguments and evidence and comes up with a preliminary opinion for the court. The Court comes to a final decision sometime later this year.
The case was originally brought by Swedish Match. The New Nicotine Alliance asked to be joined to this case because it concerns the health of smokers in the European Union. It is not about markets and commerce, but about the right to be able to choose a safer alternative to smoking. For the NNA this case is about whether some 320,000 premature deaths from smoking can be saved in future years, as detailed by Dr Lars Ramström in his statement to the court.
The denial of access to lower risk snus leads to unnecessary deaths. The NNA believes that smokers have a right to safer nicotine products as alternatives to smoking and the right to make choices that help them avoid adverse health outcomes.
The core of the NNA’s case is that the ban on snus is both disproportionate and contrary to the right to health. There is no need for the ban, and the ban, if upheld, will continue to contribute to excess mortality from smoking in Europe.
This is the first time that a ‘right to health’ argument has been used to challenge a bad tobacco law: we argue that the Court needs to examine the compatibility of the Tobacco Products Directive with both the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the harm reduction obligation under the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
The test case scenario for the impact of snus on health is Sweden. The Swedish experience shows that snus is of little harm and, importantly, that using snus has led to the lowest death rates from tobacco related disease in Europe.
The EU tobacco legislation has perverse consequences when it comes to snus. It is based on a limited and flawed understanding of health protection. The perverse position that we find ourselves in is that in the EU smokers have a right to buy the most lethal form of tobacco – the cigarette. They do not, however, except in Sweden, have a right to buy snus.
There is thus a heavy responsibility for the court – to continue the ban and accept that thousands of EU citizens will come to an early death through smoking, or to allow smokers in the EU to freely choose to use a safer alternative to smoking.
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For more on snus and on NNA's involvement in the case see our snus campaign pages, HERE
image @ Cedric Puisney via flickr under Creative Commons Licence