Europe’s Hypocrisy on Tobacco and Health Care

The European Commission is taking Finland to court to try to force it to ban the sale of snus, a form of smokeless tobacco. The snus is being sold on a couple of remote Finnish islands.

“The Commission has ‘no tolerance’ for the sale of oral tobacco ‘given the health risks,’ said EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou in a statement.”

This is an utterly absurd position, given that the Commission tolerates the sale of cigarettes, which are infinitely riskier to your health (and lungs) than smokeless tobacco, as the New York Times and health experts have noted.

But then, cigarettes are heavily taxed in Europe, and produce huge amounts of revenue to fund European bureacracies. And the cigarette industry has more political clout and connections than the makers of smokeless tobacco.

The European Commission is harming, not helping, public health by banning smokeless tobacco, since it is a substitute for cigarettes, which are far more unhealthy. Sweden, where smokeless tobacco is legal, has a lower smoking rate (and lower lung cancer rate) than the rest of Europe, where smokeless tobacco is banned.

This is a classic example of why government regulations in the name of public health should not be accepted uncritically. Sometimes the Nanny State is very dumb, and does things that make the public less, rather than more, healthy.

The European Commission’s stupidity has parallels in the area of chemical regulation, where public health suffers because of regulators’ phobia of chemicals. In America, the 1958 Delaney Amendment, softened in 1996, barred new chemicals that are safer than old chemicals if exposure to ridiculously large amounts of the new chemicals can harm a lab rat. In Europe, a nightmare of red tape called REACH makes it even more difficult to introduce or make use of chemicals, even if they have vital public health uses.