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South Africa: Swedish snus snare

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British American Tobacco (BAT) recently sent a delegation of South African members of parliament to Sweden on a “fact finding” trip, to learn about the blessings of snus oral tobacco. The trip was organised by a group called the Association of Reduction of Tobacco-related Harm (ARTH).

When a draft programme came to light just two weeks before the start of the trip, it revealed that the snus manufacturer Swedish Match and other pro-snus promoters were to entertain members of the group, who were to stay at the most prestigious hotels and dine at the very best restaurants during their five days in Sweden. Strangely, no tobacco control experts or government officials in Sweden seemed to know anything about the visit until a copy of the draft programme came to the attention of Doctors Against Tobacco (DAT). In order to offer the group a broader picture of Swedish conditions and the snus issue in particular, DAT members then emailed the chairs of the two chambers of the visitors' parliament, inviting the group to a meeting during their stay in Stockholm.

A few days before the group's arrival, DAT was contacted by the South African embassy in Stockholm, expressing the group's strong interest in a meeting. It appeared that efforts to arrange meetings with government officials and snus-friendly Swedish parliamentarians had been unsuccessful, perhaps in part because of the approaching summer holidays. The visitors were able instead to have a full morning's meeting with Swedish doctors, a health-friendly Swedish parliamentarian and a youth representative from Sweden's Non-smoking Generation national youth anti-tobacco programme. Also present at the “harm reduction by snus” information and discussion session, held at the famous Karolinska University Hospital, were representatives of BAT and ARTH.

BAT has made it clear that it wants to get into the snus market, with South Africa a major target. Swedish health advocates, knowing that the visiting South African delegates might be meeting only pro-snus advocates from the tobacco industry, were glad to have been able to invite them to a meeting. Perhaps it may have served as a vaccination against any excesses of those who may later have put commercial interests before a balanced, science-based examination of the complex topic they were studying.