Governments around the world are getting it all wrong when it comes to tobacco regulation. It seems their goal is punishing tobacco users and tobacco companies, rather than improving public health. Remember this, from the World Health Organization last month?
The EU already bans the least harmful form of tobacco, a smokeless product called snus, from all member states except Sweden.
Now, the EU is considering a new tobacco directive which would have the effect of banning snus in Sweden as well, where tobacco-related diseases are the lowest in Europe. In Sweden, where I spoke to a group of journalists last week, relatively few people smoke cigarettes. Many use snus instead. But if the EU has its way, makers of snus will be forced to increase total tobacco content in snus. (Yes, you read that right.) Companies would have to decrease the moisture content and remove flavorings, rendering the new product something entirely different than snus.
The regulatorily revamped snus would be legal in Sweden, but would become a far less appealing alternative to cigarette smoking. This, apparently, is actually an intended consequence. But Swedish tobacco users would be left with only more harmful choices if they decide not to, or are unable to quit tobacco altogether. This dangerous regulatory experiment on Swedish tobacco users leaves me thinking that the Europeans forgot about that “First Do No Harm” credo.
I’m not alone in pointing out how harmful this policy would be. Clive Bates, the former head of London’s Action on Smoking and Health has offered up a bold set of suggestions to improve the EU tobacco rules.
How the EU regulates tobacco will have significant implications on US policy as well. The activists’ press releases practically write themselves any time the EU cracks down on consumer choice.
Stay tuned to this space for more on the EU’s regulatory approach.