A Nordic Noir Nightmare
A guest post from Argvargen, Swedish vaping blogger
Vapers in Power was kind enough to ask me to write an overview of the current situation in Sweden. I was delighted to oblige…
The legal situation is simple. Which, being a legal situation, means it’s actually very complicated.
The sale of e-cigarettes that contain nicotine, and e-liquids that contain nicotine, was banned in 2013. This ban was concocted and enforced by Läkemedelsverket – the Swedish Medicines Licensing Agency. Any vendor, whether a bricks & mortar shop or an online retailer based in Sweden, is liable to pay a substantial fine for every single breach of this ban – that is to say a separate fine can be enforced for every single e-cigarette or e-liquid brand, flavour and strength that breaches the ban.
That’s the simple bit!
Läkemedelsverket (hereafter LMV) introduced the ban by taking a shop in Malmö (owned and operated by a small, independent company called Tradeteam i Vintrie AB) to court, using the Illegal Sale of Medicines Act. So the court had to decide whether nicotine-containing e-cigs and e-liquids were in fact medicines, or simply consumer products. The court ruled in LMV’s favour. The ban was legal, and LMV began contacting other vape stores & retailers with an eye to closing down the entire internal market.
Almost simultaneously, the Swedish Customs Authority – Tullverket – announced that the import of nicotine-containing e-cigs and liquids was banned. In fact, if I recall correctly they actually tried to ban the import of all e-cigs and their components, on spurious grounds that included the scaremongering misinformation that they had discovered “an e-cig that contained marijuana” being imported. I don’t doubt that they found something with dope in it, but one thing’s for sure – it wasn’t an e-cig. The clue is in the name.
I’ll pass on the temptation to ridicule Tullverket further, leaving you to have a quiet laugh to yourself at their expense. (Suffice it to say that this miraculous, one-off dope e-cig has been cited by anti-vaping extremists, the media, and even a high-level government investigation and report into the regulation of e-cigs under the TPD.)
Within weeks of Tullverket announcing the import ban, it was quietly repealed as unlawful.
And news followed that Trade Team, the owners of the e-cig shop in Malmö at the centre of the sales ban case, were to appeal the court judgement.
An unexpected but welcome consequence of this appeal (for the handful of Swedish vendors and vapers alike), was that the Swedish State was unwilling to risk being sued, via LMV, for loss of business were the court of appeal to rule in favour of the defendant. So those shops and online vendors, who had resisted pressure from LMV to cease trading nicotine-containing products, were able to continue to trade until the ruling was announced.
Trade Team lost the appeal, but immediately took the case to the High Court of Appeal, where lawyers from each side have spent the past year or so presenting their cases and throwing documents and evidence back and forth. The final court ruling is expected in early 2016 – just in time for the introduction of the EU Tobacco Products Directive.
Both LMV and the Swedish government have stated repeatedly that the TPD does not apply to products already prohibited by or under the jurisdiction of the Sale of Medicinal Products Law. But if they do win the case, and try to enforce this position, it is likely that this state of affairs will also be challenged in court. Only time will tell.
For the record, it’s interesting to note that the “ban as illegal medicines” tactic relies on LMV’s definition of nicotine-containing e-cigs and e-liquid as a “medicine by function” – something that has been tried but defeated in several EU states over the past few years. If they are successful, Sweden will be the first and only country (as far as I am aware) to prohibit e-cigs as unlawful medicines. The justification for their “medicine by function” approach is that “nicotine has known pharmacological effects.” If I were a coffee producer or shop, I’d be quaking in my boots right now. They also have the brass neck to state that “medicinal approval guarantees that a product is safe for the user.” Which I assume is why we never hear of anyone suffering adverse effects from prescription medicines.
They have some handy advice for concerned vapers in the Q&A section of their website: In answer to the question “I’ve been smoke-free for some time now thanks to e-cigarettes. What do you think I should do now?” – they reply:
“It is our hope that in the future there will be an e-cigarette that meets the demands of medicinal regulation. In the meantime, we direct you to use the medicines that have been approved and have been proven effective.”
So what’s the situation with the anti-vaping groups, and the public health establishment?
The entire episode is a chilling mirror-image of the highly unscientific, scaremongering but ultimately simple campaign to prohibit the use of snus, both in the UK and later in the entire EU (Sweden didn’t join the EU until after the snus ban was implemented, and secured an exemption as a vital tool to sell the concept of membership to a predominantly skeptical population).
The anti-vaping fanatics in Sweden are also anti-snus. But with over 10% of the population (and nearly 30% of the male population) enjoying their snus very much thank you, they know they are on safer ground attacking a “foreign”, imported enemy. Either of the two following quotes, made during the walkover that was the snus ban, could be attributed to the anti-vaping fanatics in present-day Sweden:
“Some find it hard to justify the ban on snus when cigarette smoking, which is undoubtedly more dangerous, is still permitted. The answer is simple. Prohibition is only feasible if relatively few people use a product…the UK government should be congratulated for acting now to protect people from this new addictive carcinogenic hazard.” – Ann McNeill, British Journal of Addiction
“Enough is known about the health effects of snus to justify the decision to prevent its introduction.” – Alison Hillhouse, ASH Scotland
There is a very close bond, and similarity in both zeal and approach, between the most notorious fanatic in Sweden and her counterpart in Germany. I have documented this briefly here – and please read Norbert Zillatron’s excellent assessment of the situation in Germany. And since the main anti-smoking/snus/vaping group don’t appear to do any significant research or even produce comprehensive information of their own, I assume much of their “knowledge” emanates from Germany (and, it should go without saying, the buffoon Stanton Glantz at UCSF!).
Vaping to be banned in outdoor public places
The government has recently published a white paper on revisions to tobacco policies. It is the usual blend of junk-science-hyping, putting-the-ball-into-an-open-goal hyperbole that appeals to those for whom pleasure is incompatible with nicotine, no matter how many civil liberties and constitutional laws must be trampled upon.
I have covered some of the more astonishing proposals here already. But the most galling for vapers is the suggestion that laws be introduced to restrict and prohibit vaping in outdoor public places. As with every policy proposal of this type, it is being sold as “We care about kids. So we’ll stop people blowing vapour in kids’ faces in playgrounds”, but it is already accompanied by a list of other places that don’t quite fit this appeal to emotion, such as pub gardens and terraces. One thing’s for sure: like all the other legal and governmental interventions thus far, it’s unlikely to end well for Swedish vapers.
The public vaping bans will no doubt be swept through parliament by a combination of zealous and unquestioning members of parliament, as the bans will simply piggyback a host of planned smoking bans that are also in the pipeline. Vapers would do well to fight both – smoking bans are just as unscientific and illiberal – and those who propose one have little time or inclination to bother with making any distinctions.
In summary, if LMV win their case, things are about as bad as they can be, and both vendors and vapers are in the bizarre position where the implementation of the TPD as it stands would actually be AN IMPROVEMENT.