Context The European Union (EU) Tobacco Products Directive that bans sales of snus (a form of oral tobacco) in EU countries other than Sweden is currently under review. Major tobacco companies favour the ban being overturned. This study aims to explore compliance with the current ban on snus sales and examines the conduct of online snus vendors, including their compliance with two other EU Directives on excise and tobacco advertising and Swedish legislation banning sales of snus outside Sweden.
Methods To determine who is currently distributing snus via the internet in the EU, searches were carried out in Google, followed by searches in the WHOIS and Amadeus databases. Five online test purchases of snus were made in each of 10 EU Member States using a standardised protocol. Feedback from the test purchases and further analysis of the websites accessed for test purchases were used to critically examine snus retailers' conduct.
Results The majority of online vendors operate from Sweden and target non-Swedish EU citizens. Test purchases were successfully made in all 10 EU Member States; of 43 orders placed, only two failed. Age verification relied only on self-report. The majority of sales applied Swedish taxes, contrary to EU requirements. Copious sales promotion activities, many price based, are incorporated in these websites contravening the EU regulation, and three test purchases were delivered with gifts.
Conclusions Snus is currently being sold on the single market via the internet in contravention of Swedish legislation and three EU Directives. The apparent willingness of the tobacco industry to contravene EU and Swedish legislation and profit from unlawful sales raises questions about their status as stakeholders in consultations on future policy developments. The findings highlight how national and regional tobacco control legislation can be undermined in an increasingly globalised world.
- Tobacco industry
- non-cigarette tobacco products
- public policy
- harm reduction
- advertising and promotion
- smoking-caused disease
- tobacco industry privatisation
- former Soviet Union
- European tobacco control
- Central and Eastern Europe
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Funding This work is supported by the ‘Pricing Policies and Control of Tobacco in Europe (PPACTE)’ project and funded by the EC FP7 Grant Agreement HEALTH-F2-2009-223323. AG is supported by a Health Foundation Clinician Scientist Fellowship. The snus was not purchased using money from either of these grants. AG is a member of the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies (UKCTCS), a UK Centre for Public Health Excellence. Funding to UKCTCS from the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, the Economic and Social Research Council, the Medical Research Council and the National Institute of Health Research, under the auspices of the UK Clinical Research Collaboration, is gratefully acknowledged. The funders played no role in the study design, analysis and interpretation of data nor writing of the report or the decision to submit the article for publication.
Competing interests None.
Ethics approval The project was approved by the University of Bath's Research Ethics Approval Committee for Health.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.