Back in October, the NNA issued a press release calling on policymakers to lift the counterproductive and unnecessary EU-wide ban on snus. This followed a decision by the FDA in the United States – based on a rigorous assessment of the available science - to categorise snus to be “appropriate for the protection of public health”.
At the time, our snus expert, Mark Oates said:
“It is inexplicable why the EU continues to perpetuate the ban on European smokers choosing to switch to snus, not only is the sale of snus permitted in the USA but they have now allowed one company to make the undisputed claim that “using snus instead of cigarettes puts you at a lower risk of mouth cancer, heart disease, lung cancer, stroke, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis”, the difference in approach could not be more stark, and it is the EU which is being reckless with its public’s health, not America.”
With more and more consumers in the UK, Europe and globally opting for safer forms of nicotine use rather than combustible tobacco, awareness has grown about the existence and properties of snus. In countries where it is legally sold, substitution of smoking in favour of snus has often been remarkable, including Sweden which has an exemption to the EU snus ban and whose smoking rate is subsequently dramatically lower than all other EU member states.
However, the UK government and the EU have stubbornly refused to accept that harms from snus are negligible to non-existent, and that the continued prohibition merely denies smokers a far safer option, should they wish to quit but find it difficult by other means.
However, last week we saw positive signs in the UK with an answer to a parliamentary question on the subject from Jo Churchill, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Department of Health. Asked if the UK government will make an assessment of the effectiveness of the ban on snus products, she responded:
“The Government will consider in due course reviewing the position on snus, and whether the introduction of this product onto the UK market would promote a proportionate approach to managing risks, one which protects the young and non-smokers, whilst giving smokers access to products which may reduce harm.”
This contrasts with previous answers on the subject from the Department of Health - notably during Steve Brine’s tenure – which indicated that no research evidence was even being collated.
Whether it is a consequence of the UK leaving the EU or – hopefully – a realisation that the ban on snus is indefensible both scientifically and morally, this apparent new approach from the government is to be very much welcomed.
The UK has seen a remarkable shift in forms of nicotine use in the past decade, with consumers themselves choosing safer products over lit tobacco. As a result, smoking prevalence in the UK has declined at an unprecedented rate at little or no cost to the taxpayer. With new innovative options joining the market on a regular basis, this should surely continue.
The government has recognised this significant behavioural shift and, indeed, pledged to “maximise the availability of safer alternatives to smoking” in its ongoing Tobacco Control Plan. What better way could there be to honour that pledge than to legalise the sale of snus and finally consign to history a ban which was founded on ignorance and ideology, and is now a reactionary relic that has held back harm reduction progress for far too long.