Snus City: A Nastier Side of Stockholm

Those packets are everywhere. Why ban cigarettes and not snus?

Packets of snus, a “moist” tobacco product that is placed in the gum line, litter Stockholm in a manner that I have never seen before. You can find them in alleyways, buses, trains, rental kayaks, really anywhere. Occasionally, you’ll be lucky enough to find an entire used cartridge of snus that just didn’t make it into the trash.

This box of snus was left at my table at a local restaurant. 

I arrived in Stockholm on July 2, just 1 day after the cigarette smoking ban had taken effect. I expected to be welcomed into a virtually tobacco-free city, having missed the borderline hypocritical Swedish snus conversation. Being as interested in public health policy as I am, I wondered why public cigarette smoking had been banned, but not the use of snus? Interestingly, Sweden is the only place in the European Union where the sale of snus is legal, and about 1 million Swedes use it.

While it is a positive step to ban the use of cigarettes in outdoor public places, including parks, train stations, and bars/restaurants, thereby eliminating the effects of secondhand or passive smoke, doesn’t it seem a little hypocritical that snus has also not been outlawed? Let’s take a moment to look back at snus’s history in Sweden and Europe for more details. 

In order to avoid a heavily youth-targeted marketing campaign from American tobacco companies in the 1990s, the EU urged its member states to ban the use of smokeless tobacco before it became a public health problem. Every state but Sweden complied, citing it as an overly-restrictive trade policy.

Something that seems obvious but is hard to track down is that snus was invented in Sweden. It has been sold by Ettan since 1822, placing the lack of a Swedish snus ban into much more perspective. If snus was invented in Sweden, and it has a longstanding commercial presence in Sweden, no wonder it hasn’t been banned yet!

This presence, however, is a bit over-inflated. In an ordered list of Swedish exports, snus and other tobacco products are ranked 111th.  Therefore, the value of snus for Swedish producers must be at home. Made for Swedes, by Swedes.

This takes us into a conversation about the clash of businesses and public health policy, even in a social democratic state. I’m used to this kind of issue in the US, but I was surprised to find a similar battle taking place in Sweden, an otherwise health-conscious place. For example, capitalism is heavily regulated under Systembolaget, the alcohol retail monopoly.

Lots of public recreation areas in Stockholm where many runners can be spotted! 

I’m excited to continue to learn about these public health issues in Sweden as I continue to live and study in Stockholm. For now, I am headed to Ireland and Northern Ireland, and am looking forward to writing about their public health infrastructures. Til’ next time!

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