Smokeless tobacco illegally sold via the internet

Posted in: Public policy


We discovered that snus, a smokeless tobacco banned in all EU countries except Sweden, is easily obtainable online - contravening three pieces of EU legislation. Are Swedish authorities doing enough to prohibit exports to other EU countries?

The sale of snus, a Scandinavian smokeless tobacco product, was banned in the EU in 1992; an action reaffirmed in the 2001 Tobacco Products Directive which is currently under review. Only Sweden was given an exemption to this ban, provided it ensured that snus would not be placed for sale on the markets of other EU countries.

We carried out online snus test purchases in ten EU countries, and found that snus was easily purchased in all sample countries; of the 43 purchases attempted, only two failed due to credit card issues. In the majority of successful purchases, taxes were levied inappropriately in the country of the vendor rather than the country of destination as required by EU legislation.

The results also indicated that most online vendors operate from Sweden, and deliberately target non-Swedish EU citizens, despite Swedish legislation making it illegal to sell snus outside Sweden.

We analysed the websites from which our purchases were made and revealed that age verification measures to prevent under-aged sales are inadequate. Also vendors frequently use promotions (many price-based such as bulk-buy discounts) to encourage the use of snus despite EU legislation banning tobacco advertising over the internet.

This is the only peer-reviewed study to date to examine online snus sales in the EU and assess the conduct of online snus vendors. This study provides evidence that the online sale of snus to non-Swedish EU citizens contravenes three pieces of EU legislation – a ban on selling snus outside Sweden, a requirement for the excise on distance sales of tobacco to be collected in the destination country, and a ban on cross-border tobacco advertising. Furthermore, the findings suggest that Swedish legislation which prohibits snus exports to other EU countries is not being enforced.

This research is published in Tobacco Control.  If you already have a subscription to this journal, the following link will direct you to the paper.

Posted in: Public policy