What's all the snus about? Swedish MEP dealing snuff in Brussels

By TheBigBadWolf · Oct 25, 2012 · Updated Oct 25, 2012 · ·
  1. TheBigBadWolf

    The labyrinthine corridors of the European Parliament building in Brussels are hardly the obvious hangout for a brazen drug dealer to traffic his produce across international borders. Yet should you ever be in desperate need of an illicit fix of snus – a type of Swedish snuff tobacco which cannot be sold legally anywhere in the EU apart from in its home country – Christofer Fjellner's office is the place to go.

    As part of his campaign to make the sale of snus legalised, the fresh-faced Swedish MEP stocks up on a supply of the moist, brown powder every time he flies home to bring back with him to the Belgian capital. Once he's landed, word quickly spreads among Scandinavian devotees who rush to his premises to pick up €4 cans of their sticky vice, which they place in pouches under their top lips to absorb into their bloodstream.

    "I kept some in my office for private use and some friends used to knock and ask if I had some to sell them," Mr Fjellner, 35, told The Independent. "After a while I thought it would be a fun prank to start selling it. So I bought a small refrigerator, and I started to bring more boxes back with me. Nowadays I have 10 or 15 regular customers, most of them Swedish. "There is a bit of disobedience to it – consciously to break the law but be willing to take the consequences for it," he admits.

    He doesn't know what the maximum punishment would be if he was arrested, but he says with a laugh: "It would make for an interesting court case."

    At a time when the future of the euro hangs in the balance, snus has not been an especially pressing matter for most Brussels politicians, even in the knowledge of a dealer in their midst. Or at least it wasn't, until last week, when the battle over its legal status led to one of the biggest corruption scandals to hit the EU in years.

    The Health Commissioner, John Dalli, pictured below, resigned in ignominy last Tuesday after an official report found that a fellow Maltese politician, Silvio Zammit, had approached the leading manufacturer of snus, Swedish Match, offering to work with Mr Dalli to legalise their product in exchange for bribes worth €60m (£48m). The company alerted the authorities, leading to an investigation by the EU's anti-corruption office, Olaf. It concluded that it "did not find any conclusive evidence of the direct participation of Mr Dalli but did consider that he was aware of these events". Implicated in this way, he had to resign.

    Mr Dalli, for his part, strenuously denies the allegations – implying after he stepped down that he was forced to resign by the Commission president José Manuel Barroso. "The report stated that there was no proof at all that I was involved in any misdeeds," he said in an interview last week. Mr Zammit has also denied any wrongdoing, saying that he was merely acting as a lobbyist.

    That snus was the downfall of such a significant figure in European politics may seem curious to those who have never heard the stuff, let alone experienced the intense rush it's said to induce – which can make some first-time users feel nauseous – nor had to deal with its predominant side-effect, brown teeth.

    However, the fight for the right to snus, and for tobacco companies to launch a new product on an untapped market across the Continent, has been intensifying in recent years.

    It is not illegal to possess snus, nor to consume it. But its sale has been banned in the EU since 1992, following attempts by a US firm to introduce pouches of chewable tobacco known as Skoal Bandits to the UK. The ban was introduced due to an outcry by health campaigners who pointed to evidence that it can cause mouth cancer.

    Only Sweden, where as many as 20 per cent of the population are thought to be users, is exempt, after it negotiated a waver on joining the EU in 1995. Fans of Swedish snus have been joined by many tobacco experts in arguing that it is much more refined and pure than American snuff, thereby posing far less health risks.

    With the Royal College of Physicians saying that it is 1,000 times less harmful than cigarettes, it has been hailed as a healthier alternative for heavy smokers. Karl Fagerstrom, who has been researching the effects of tobacco use for 20 years, is among those Swedes who argue that while opening the door for another tobacco product to enter the market is not ideal, allowing smokers to switch to snus is a realistic public health strategy for addressing the cancerous harm of cigarettes.

    "Tobacco is a cultural drug as much as alcohol and caffeine, and the history of mankind does not show that we are able to rid us of drugs," he told The Independent. "Those who are against snus and against tobacco… think we could get rid of tobacco altogether, so why do we need another tobacco product?

    "...I think we want it to be as little harmful as possible. For that reason I'm in favour of snus and any other product less harmful than cigarettes." Meanwhile, Mr Fjellner is keen to show anyone who will listen an eight-year-old official document, the ENSP Status Report on Oral Tobacco, in which a line admitting there is no clear evidence that Swedish snus is dangerous has been censored using Tip-Ex. "I definitely think there is a cover-up," he says, even going so far as to call it "Snusgate."

    However, despite the lobby, it may be the taste of the stuff that means the chances of us all becoming snus addicts is rather far-fetched.

    "I once arranged a tasting session in parliament," said Mr Fjellner, "but I'll never do that again, because the people who tried it were more positive about the ban after tasting it."

    Swede taste: making a comeback

    Snuff is defined by the EU as "moist oral tobacco which can be bought loose and in small, ready-to-use, portions and involves taking a pinch of 1–2g of loose snuff or a portion-bag pouch and placing it between the lip and cheek or gum".

    Only snuff produced by Swedish Match is considered to be genuine snus. These days it comes in a variety of flavours, such as lemon, aniseed, coffee, mint and cranberry, and is sold in small packets resembling tea bags.

    Snus was widespread in Sweden in the 19th century but suffered a decline in popularity after the Second World War – but it has since made a comeback, with production topping 6,000 tonnes per year.


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  1. rawbeer
    The EU ban on snus seems like one of the most bizzare laws on earth to me. Whether or not it is less hamrful than cigarettes - and it is certainly less hamrful, as oral cancer is less lethal than lung cancer and issues of second hand smoke are void, and emphysema, bronchitis and other lung disorders are rules out with snus - it is still just tobacco. It would be like a country legalizing cannabis but making pot brownies illegal. Or outlawing .22 caliber guns but keeping .45's legal. ???????

    My teeth are less stained from snus than they were from the cigarettes I used to smoke. My endurance when I run has increased 5 times since I switched 5 months ago. I asked my dentist a month or so ago if there is any evidence that snus is staining my teeth or causing gum problems and they said no (although the large amounts of coffee I drink probably cover up any stains! And of course gum problems could take a while to develope). My doctor said it's not ideal but in his words "absoluetly anything you can do to replace smoking cigarettes I am all for."

    I know Europeans have reduced their smoking in recent decades but I can't help but wonder if cigarette companies have helped fund anti-snus laws. There's been speculation that Camel Snus, a pretty lousy product, was introduced to the US market to make snus seem unappealing! As wierd as it seems I don't totally dismiss this claim because Camel Snus doesn't taste good and delivers no noticeable nicotine. It's similar to speculation that macro breweries introduce lousy versions of "craft beers" too act as "category killers" (a guy wants to try 'pumpkin beer' so he buys the cheapest variety available - the macro variety is invariably cheaper than the much better micro variety - and it is gross. So he writes off the whole category).

    Conspiracy aside, this law is nonsensical. Can one person come up with a single logical reason that snus would be illegal but cigarettes would remain legal? I'd love to hear one. Of course there's always a risk with tobacco, or any drug. But tobacco is legal almost everywhere! Why outlaw certain preparations?

    (Tobacco of any kind can make first time users nauseous. My first few snus tries were strange, but not disgusting and nauseating like the one time I tried to dip).
  2. mccthyjhn
    Its just typical that someone in the EU parliament is accused of drug dealing,man they sell all that stuff down my local town and lots of worse stuff my son smokes synthetic cannabiods and it does him no harm i dont personal agree with drug dealing but the stuff they legalise is much stronger than the stuff they sell on the streets and a lot safer for the user.My son smokes red seal a type of synthetic cannabis but used to be a herion and crack smoker and user i much prefer him to buy the stuff from a shop than out of some dirty street corner.aint all politicians ex gang members anyway i dont know what all the fuss is about.
  3. Skäggbiff
    This = ridiculous.

    All research made on Swedish snus has shown that it is less harmful than other tobacco products and regardless of that fact the EU still claims that snus causes cancer and heart problems (this might be true but its yet to be proven.. I do not believe its harmless tho)

    The EU tends to refer to small fractions of recognized research papers to support their stand - regardless of actual findings and results. In other words, they are reading the research the same way the devil would read the Bible.

    In 2008 the so-called "Scenihr Report" was published in order to "show the way" and give guidance before deciding on new tobacco directives within the EU, and this study was unable to establish any dangers associated with using Swedish snus.. and guess what? the EU uses it as a reference to 'prove' the opposite - Swedish snus causes cancer like the completely different chewing tobacco from India and Africa does.

    My head is a bit messy right now.. hope you get my point.

    All the best,
  4. Guttz
    Swedish Snus undergoes the same regulation as food when being produced. So you're getting a product that's supposedly as "healthy" as food. They try to minimize the dangerous chemicals in them as much as possible.

    There was a 60 minutes story on the issue a few years ago, which you can find on youtube. Research have shown Swedish snus to be 90 - 99% less harmful them smoking cigarettes. Those numbers came from two researches according to the doctor which was being interviewed in that story.

    I really don't see why snus hasn't been promoted more as a substitute for smoking since it's so much better then smoking over all. It has no respiratory harm at all and they even have yet to prove that it causes cancer. They haven't been able to prove it yet, but that possibility can never be ruled out.

    Looking at it from a harm reduction point of view though it should be seriously considered. A lot of my friends have stopped smoking and use snus instead, we don't have the Swedish version though. We have a special Icelandic product that's used in a pretty weird manner I guess you could say.

    You can see the Icelandic version here if you're interested: http://www.drugs-forum.com/forum/showthread.php?t=162949
  5. zerozerohero
    Interresting and refreshing news, but... for having a very close friend filling a major position at the european parliament in brussels, i can assure you that what one can find in the pockets of a majority of the younger members of this venerable institution is far worse than snus, although mostly used through the same administration route (pun intended). These people work more than most of us realize - when i say that guy works around 16 to 18 hours a day, every day of the week, it is no joke, not mentionning that he flies a good dozen times a month in and out of brussels. The substance abuse is widespread there because these people need a sidekick - i can't for the life of me begin to imagine having to fulfill such a work schedule and not consuming drugs to keep me going.
    Some go legal and get a prescription for modafinil or some amphetamine compound (pure dextroamphetamine is still prescribable in Belgium, in powder form nonetheless), others go towards what they're used to from their private life, coke or speed. Caffeine and Ritalin are merely a joke in these circles, just as snus probably is.
  6. piurano
    It is proven to cause mouth cancer, do a google image search on a can of swedish snuff and you might see a health warning ;)
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