Media: Expressen (SE) – The reduced snus tax is an unprecedented move

The reduction of the snus tax shows that the government does not see cigarettes and snus as equally dangerous.

This is a unique shift. The Public Health Agency of Sweden must now stop supporting organisations that oppose snus,” write representatives of the Snus Commission.

[read the full article in Swedish on Expressen] 

The government’s proposal to reduce the tax on snus is unique in the world. Never before has a tobacco product been given a lower tax for public health reasons. The only similar example comes from Norway, but there the adjustment was more of a tax technical effect.

So why is such a marginal event in terms of tax policy attracting such attention?

It is about breaking a Swedish taboo in public health policy. Since the 1970s politicians have refused to differentiate the danger of different tobacco products. A de facto ban on thinking about tobacco and public health was created. All tobacco should be treated equally. Regardless of the public health effect.

The result was a snus ban in the EU that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives every year for smokers who were not offered an alternative. It has cost thousands of lives every year in Sweden for smokers who were not informed that snus was an alternative. Not a health product, but something you can live with instead of dying from your smoking.

At the same time, the Public Health Agency should answer whether it intends to continue to tax fund organisations that explicitly oppose this public health policy.
Now comes the turnaround. About a three krona reduction in the price of a can of snus and a four krona increase in the price of a packet of cigarettes, according to the ministry’s calculations. Few things, if any, in the government’s budget will have a greater positive effect on public health.

By way of comparison, 227 people lost their lives in traffic-related accidents in 2022, so it is only right that billions are being invested in improving road safety.

Instead, here is a proposal that is tax-neutral. It will not cost the state anything. But it will save significantly more lives than the traffic policy measures.

However, an important prerequisite for reaping the public health effects of the proposal is that the government authorities immediately change their work and stop working against the harm minimisation principle.

Now, smokers who want to quit will need the blessing of the Public Health Agency to use snus to become smoke-free if they wish. The government can provide the financial incentives.

This is particularly important as we now have a major new study from researchers at the Public Health Institute in Norway which states that the best aid to quitting smoking is snus. It has a much better effect than various medical aids, or for that matter other nicotine products such as e-cigarettes.

The Director-General of the Swedish Public Health Agency, Karin Tegmark Wisell, needs to answer the question of whether she is on the side of the government or whether she intends to continue to pursue her own policy on the issue. And the government should act on that answer.

At the same time, the Public Health Agency should answer whether it intends to continue to provide tax funding to organisations that explicitly oppose this public health policy. These are groups that have formed against the harm minimisation principle, such as Tobaksfakta and Non smoking generation.

The funds that can be released there can be used to disseminate information to citizens about the relative health risks of consuming nicotine and tobacco products and how they should navigate them to limit the health risks. The authority should explain that the harm minimisation principle is superior as the idea of a society free from all consumption of health-impacting and unhealthy products is unrealistic and not even utopian.

By Anders Milton

Chairman, Snus Commission, former CEO and President of the Swedish Medical Association.

Kinna Bellander

Member, Snuskommissionen, previously active at MTG AB and TV4, among others

Karl Fagerström

Member of the Snus Commission, associate professor and researcher on tobacco and nicotine.

Göran Johnsson

Member of the Snus Commission, former chairman of IF Metall.