It is a smokeless form of oral tobacco very popular in Sweden but snus has been banned under EU law since 1992.
The product is a mixture of ground tobacco leaves, salt and water that is normally packed in small sachets, which are placed behind the upper lip. Snus can also contain flavouring.
The product is banned under the EU’s Tobacco Product Regulation Directive that defines tobacco for oral use as “all products for oral use, except those intended to be smoked or chewed”.
Snus is not chewed.
Sweden negotiated an exemption from the sales ban on snus when it joined the EU in 1995. The exemption was granted on condition that the product would not be sold in other EU markets.
The Swedish Government has tried to get the export ban lifted claiming it went contrary to the free trade principle for a product that was less problematic health-wise than smoked tobacco.
In 2004, Swedish-based international manufacturer Swedish Match – the company that triggered the John Dalli investigation – had challenged the export ban but the European Court of Justice turned down its case.
Swedish Match is one of the world’s leading companies in the area of niche tobacco products and last year made an operating profit of more than €400 million.
This context is important to understand the seriousness of the allegations made in the John Dalli case, as the EU Commission was in the process of reviewing its tobacco legislation this year.
Two years ago the EU Commission started a consultation process to review the tobacco directive and the Swedish Government used the occasion to argue against the snus ban.
It would have been up to Mr Dalli, as EU Health and Consumer Commissioner, to propose lifting the ban or confirming it.
Until today, snus remains a Swedish peculiarity with big political implications.
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