Friendly fire
Saturday, March 18, 2017 at 12:40
Simon Clark

I agree that snus should be legalised.

That said, this headline seemed a little strident to me:

If we want to benefit from Brexit, the first thing we should do is make snus legal (Spectator Health).

The article – by Chris Snowdon – highlights the low rates of smoking in Sweden where the sale of snus is legal.

Noting this "quiet revolution", Chris quotes a New Scientist report that began:

Sweden is lighting the way to a cigarette-free world [my emphasis]. The Swedish government has released data showing that the proportion of men aged between 30 and 44 smoking fell to just 5 per cent in 2016 ...

Overall, just 8 per cent of Swedish men now smoke on a daily basis – itself a record-low percentage – compared with a European Union average of just over 25 per cent. The proportion of Swedish women who smoke also continues to fall, and is now 10 per cent.

Let me be clear. If you believe in choice, or the principle of harm reduction, it makes complete sense for snus to be legalised.

Adult consumers must be allowed to buy a wide range of nicotine products, some 'safer' than others.

In an ideal world the legalisation of snus would be accompanied by an education campaign giving consumers all the information that's available about the health risks of snus in relation to smoking, vaping etc.

They can then make an informed choice and if, as a result, smoking rates fall, that's fine. That's how market forces work.

But advocating the immediate legalisation of snus post Brexit with the principal aim of reducing smoking rates in Britain strikes me as a potential own goal because it tacitly accepts that smoking cessation should be an urgent priority for government when it clearly isn't.

See Enough Is Enough: UK Attitudes to Smoking Cessation, 2016.

The primary reason we should legalise snus is not because it will arguably reduce smoking rates but because consumers have a right to purchase an alternative nicotine product that evidence suggests is not risk free but is significantly 'safer' than smoking tobacco.

In other words, if the legalisation of snus leads to a reduction in smoking rates, fine, but it shouldn't be the principal reason for doing it.

In fact, as soon as you accept the argument that reducing smoking rates is a priority (because it will 'benefit' Britain) you're on a slippery slope. Worse, it's exactly the sort of thing tobacco control would say.

To be clear, as long as there's no coercion or dubious propaganda involved I've no problem with smokers quitting or switching to a 'safer' nicotine product. It's their choice.

But how, exactly, does smoking cessation 'benefit' Britain?

I know we shouldn't talk about smoking in purely economic terms, but if millions of smokers quit will it improve Britain's balance sheet? No.

Regardless of the estimated cost of treating smoking-related diseases, there will be a significant net loss of revenue that alternative nicotine products will never fully replace unless they too are taxed at exhorbitant levels.

More important, if the smoking rates should ever fall to single figures in the UK you can be sure that intolerance of smoking – far from easing – will reach a peak.

As smokers become an ever smaller minority they will become an even easier target for discrimination. The merest whiff of smoke will be enough for someone to call the nearest environmental protection officer, or worse.

Parents who smoke will be accused of child abuse; smoking in public (if it is allowed at all) will be restricted to a handful of designated smoking areas marked out with thick yellow lines. (I haven't written about this yet but it's coming, believe me.)

The 'benefit' to Britain of single figure smoking rates is a middle-class fantasy in which people live longer and 'healthier' lives, travelling the world on expensive package holidays funded by lucrative private pensions and the tens of thousands of pounds allegedly 'saved' by not smoking!

For many people of my generation (and younger) that is la-la-land. Increasingly however even free marketeers and campaigners for individual liberty are buying into this vision of a 'smokefree' (sic) world.

This weekend The Freedom Association is hosting its annual Freedom Festival in Bournemouth. One of the sessions is entitled 'Vaping: has science beaten smoking?'.

Forest supports vaping, like snus, because we believe in choice. We also embrace the concept of harm reduction. (Who wouldn't?)

But what's with this idea of 'beating' smoking? No-one who genuinely supports choice and personal freedom should be at war with smoking.

'Vaping: has science beaten smoking?' is exactly the sort of title I would expect to see at a tobacco control convention.

A better title (for a 'libertarian' event) might have been, 'Vaping: has science beaten tobacco control?'. Alternatively, 'Vaping: has the free market beaten tobacco control?'.

But no, they went for 'Vaping: has science beaten smoking?' because vaping is all about 'beating' or making smoking obsolete, right?

Wrong. It's about choice.

Something else that's worth mentioning is the implication that if snus is legalised millions of smokers will switch, as happened in Sweden.

No, they won't. Snus is to Sweden what chewing tobacco is to America. There will be a niche market for it in Britain but nothing more (and I'll stake my life on that, as Phil Neville might say).

In the long-term e-cigarettes and heat-not-burn devices have a far better chance of replacing combustible cigarettes because (a) they mimic the act of smoking, and (b) the technology will evolve and improve.

But snus? Like snuff it is what it is.

But let me finish with an anecdote.

Prior to our balloon debate last month (subject: 'The Most Pleasurable Nicotine Delivery Device in the World') I invited a former CEO to advocate snus.

At work he regularly produced a tin of snus before slipping a sachet under his lip. He spoke enthusiastically about the product so I thought he would be ideal for the role.

Instead he declined my invitation and said:

"I used snus when I couldn't smoke in the office. Now I'm working from home I smoke because I prefer it."

In my experience he's far from alone.

Article originally appeared on Simon Clark (
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