Vice Squad
Monday, October 04, 2004
Snus Smuggling!

It has been awhile since last we checked up on our favorite tobacco-related word, "snus," a smokeless tobacco product from Sweden. The new snus news is unhappy: seems that Swedish Match has been taking postal orders for their product from other European countries. Because the only EU-member country in which snus is legal is Sweden itself, these mailings constitute the smuggling of contraband! It's the old snus ruse.

Meanwhile, snus-like products, along with other "safer" alternatives to cigarettes, remain quite controversial in the US. (Snus use really does appear to be much safer than smoking, so that if all smokers were to switch to snus today, the health costs of tobacco use would plummet, it seems -- all else equal. It's the "all else equal" part that some people fear, arguing that something like snus will attract more people to tobacco use, or get in the way of quitting tobacco altogether. (Exhibit A in this case is that for many people, smoking low tar and nicotine cigarettes doesn't provide much of a health advantage relative to the fully tarred and feathered, er, nicotined, version, in part because they smoke those low tar bad boys more intensely.) While this is a legitimate concern, the vehemence of some of the dismissals of "safer" tobacco products provided in this article smack of anti-tobacco zealotry, to my oh-so-temperate mind.)

Oh, back to Sweden for a minute. The other Swedish vice story we have been following concerns alcohol, and the possibility that Sweden will follow in the footsteps of Denmark and Finland by sharply cutting its alcohol taxes. But another Swedish alcohol tale is the huge bribery scandal -- I kid you not -- that is brewing around the state alcohol monopolist, Systembolaget. The allegations are (or, will be) that managers and employees of retail stores have been getting kickbacks from alcohol suppliers, based on the volume of alcohol sold. Transparency International, compiler of the famous ranking of countries by how corrupt they are perceived to be, opened a chapter in Sweden in late September. Coincidence? Is Sweden's ranking as the sixth least corrupt country threatened? Is Bangladesh's position at the foot of the table under assault?

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