Chapters:0:00 - Intro with Joanna Junak 0:36 - Bengt Wiberg discusses proposed snus tax increases in European Union 5:35 - Why does Sweden have the right to control snus taxation? 8:07 - Swedish government strongly in favour of snus-related tobacco harm reduction 10:31 - Bengt Wiberg on the E.U. proposal to harmonise nicotine product taxation 12:05 - Proposed snus tax increase could push people towards smoking 13:40 - Closing remarks
Joanna: Hello and welcome. I'm Joanna Junak and this is GFN News on GFN.TV. In today's program, we will bring you an interview with Bengt Wiberg, founder of the international Snus consumer movement EU for Snus, where we will discuss the latest news suggesting the European Union wants to force Sweden to rise attacks on Snus. Let's hear the interview. Thank you Bengt, for joining us today. First, can you tell us what has recently happened in Sweden regarding Snus?
Bengt: Yesterday was one of the busiest days in Swedish history, I guess. In the morning yesterday, the Sweden's biggest newspaper Aftonbladet, with some 6000 readers came over a leaked document from the European Commission. And in this document were figures about proposed tax increase also affecting Swedish tobacco Snus, which would if it had been implemented, it would have meant that a can of Snus that today costs maybe €6-5 would double in price to €11-12. And for portion packed Snus it would be the price increase of almost 100% also. So what happens after this article was published in the morning yesterday was that social media exploded. I'm representing EU for Snus and we just posted all over the place the Swedish Finance Minister, who I interviewed this summer about her thoughts about Snus and tobacco harm reduction and allowing Snus in the European Union. She spoke up against this, EU Commission leaked proposal on Twitter, in media. Every TV station in Sweden was running this all day, as well as every newspaper in Sweden, plus the social media. What happens more was that hashtags like Swedxit, you know like Brexit, and sort of popped up. So there was a massive response. There was also members of Parliament from various Swedish parties speaking up against this proposal. And later in the afternoon there came a clarification from the EU Commission tax spokesman saying that of course Sweden has a permanent exception. Sweden has a permanent exception to sell Snus in Sweden and of course Sweden has the full rights to tax Snus. It is none of European Union business. Later last night I was in a forum with European tobacco harm reduction advocates and we were discussing what happened. And one theory brought by NNA Sweden at the Canva Fritz was that this could have been very well a sort of a test balloon, if you know what I mean. Theoretically EU sending out leaking a document to see how is Sweden going to react. And I tell you, the reaction was head on, very very, very forceful. And Sweden will hold the presidency of the European Union which starts from 1 January until the end of June. So the latest news just 2 hours ago was that Swedish State radio reported that the whole European Union tax proposal for all non tobacco nicotine products, which means Ecigarettes nicotine pouches heat not burn, that was supposed to be presented to the member states on the 7 December. And now Swedish State radio says this has been postponed until unknown date.
Joanna: You mentioned Sweden itself has the right to set the tax level of Snus. Can you explain to us why?
Bengt: I don't know the details about that. But Sweden, when we joined the European Union in 1995, the Swedish parliament said we will not join the European Union unless we can keep our right to buy Snus. So this exception to EU rules was sort of permanent. And the only way to remove Sweden's exception to sell Snus is if all European Union countries vote for that, including Sweden. And I tell you, that will never, never ever happen because in Sweden we basically quit smoking. The daily smoking rate is down to a silly 5% and also lung cancer, oral cancer, cardiovascular diseases is far the lowest in the whole European Union. So that will never happen. But when it comes to the taxation, I am not a tax lawyer, so I really don't know if but now European Union Commission spokesman on taxes has said verbally in an interview that Sweden take care of their own taxes for Snus. And of course the reactions are still coming from politicians in Sweden. One party official member of the Parliament of the European Union said we demand this in writing from the European Commission to make it totally clear or Sweden will use our veto. Right.
Joanna: How about the Swedish authorities? Are they for or against tobacco harm reduction, including the use of Snus?
Bengt: In the Swedish parliament you have a big majority of the parties who are pro Snus and who are pro tobacco harm reduction. And you have three parties on the left and green side who, how shall we say, they don't find it so meaningful to distinguish between smoking and Snus and E-cigarettes. But the majority of the Swedish parliament is pro Snus and pro tobacco harm reduction. And yesterday the Swedish Finance Minister, her name is Mrs. Elisabeth Svantesson, she said that she wants to see Swedish news. The Snus ban in European Union disappearing and the government is all pro that. And I think ordinary people who are not so familiar with the processes in EU have learnt something new, especially in Sweden. And that is in order for new law or regulations to be accepted in the European Union, it needs every European Union country acceptance. So Sweden does have, as well as Germany or France or Spain have a very, very big, how do you say, ammunition use your veto rights. How do you think Italy would vote if Italian red wine was not allowed to be sold in other countries? They would use their veto and many countries have. But as far as I know, Sweden has never used its Veto power.
Joanna: Why did the European Union issue this kind of proposal?
Bengt: What they did was there is a proposal ongoing in the European Commission to try to harmonize the taxes on cigarettes, on E-cigarettes, on heat, not burn products, on other type of nicotine products like nicotine pouches, on chewing tobacco, on nasal snuff. So I think they decided to include Snus with those, although Sweden has an exception. So we will see in the future. Maybe not until after December, after the Swedish presidency in the European is over. But as tobacco harm reduction advocates and all of us millions, maybe 100 million former smokers who quit by help of safer products, we would of course like to see a differentiation in the taxation where cigarettes are taxed the highest and then ecigarettes and snooze and whatnot is taxed according to the relative risk as compared to smoking.
Joanna: If the tax of Snus were to come into effect, what do you think would be the consequences for people who use Snus?
Bengt: Theoretically, I think it's very safe to say that a lot of people would if the tax on Snus would be doubled, then the tax on cigarettes would only be increased by 10%. Surely thousands of Swedes would go back to smoking because this is one matter of tax on the specific nicotine products. But Sweden has been hit with, you know, the price of petrol and diesel has gone up 150%, the price of electricity has gone up maybe 3, 4, 500%. So people are suffering from a gigantic inflation and here we are talking actually about public health because if people go back to smoking, more lives will be lost and number of lung cancer etc. Patients would increase. So we are very happy today in Sweden 1.4 million Snus users. In Sweden, Snus and nicotine pouch users to see that the European Union has at least verbally said Sweden can take care of their own taxation.
Joanna: Thank you Bengt. That's all for today. Tune in next time here on GFN TV or on our new podcast. You can also find transcriptions of each episode on the GFN TV website. And on Thursday we are inviting you to watch the interview with Nancy Loucas, executive Coordinator of the Coalition of Asia Pacific Harm Reduction Advocate. Nancy will tell us about the White paper which criticizes award health organization's official health clients about dating. Thanks for watching or listening. See you next time.