Taiwan has invested heavily in anti-smoking campaigns, but while cigarettes are going down, small, round containers with Swedish snuff, the moist tobacco users insert under the upper lip for a nicotine kick, are popping up in stores.
Swedish Match, Sweden's largest snuff manufacturer, is testing the market for snuff in Taiwan, among other countries. But the company is having problems. All marketing of tobacco products is forbidden in Taiwan. An American competitor tried to sell snuff in Taiwan a few years ago but gave up, according to the company's former PR consultant Tim Ferry.
"The score now is one for the government regulators and zero for the tobacco companies. I think the government has very effectively eliminated communications," says Tim Ferry.
But Swedish Match found a channel for its message, with the help of the Swedish Trade Council, which is 50 percent state owned. In July 2010, the Swedish Trade Council hosted a seminar about snuff with 15 people in a hotel in Taipei. They were there to hear what Taiwan could learn from Sweden in the fight against cigarette smoking. The seminar was paid for by private companies.
One of the speakers flown in from Sweden was Ulf Zetterström, a doctor and medical advisor to Swedish Match.
"I spoke about the view we have here that there is a potential correlation in Sweden between a diminishing number of cigarette smokers and a relatively high snuff use," Zetterström told Swedish Radio News.
Sweden has one of the lowest rates of smokers, especially among men, in the world. Many in the snuff industry attribute the low rates to snuff and its use as an aide to quit smoking. Zetterström says the seminar was attended by specialists from university hospitals, oncologists, ear, nose and throat doctors, pediatricians and public health specialists. He says that having the Trade Council hosting the seminar made it more neutral and credible.
That such a seminar took place surprises Tim Ferry. "I find that surprising because in the US nobody wants to touch tobacco and neither American Chamber of Commerce or the American Institute of Trade would ever do anything that would be seen as promoting or sponsoring or supporting the tobacco industry. That would be a public relations disaster," says Ferry.
Both Sweden and the United States have signed the World Health Organization's anti-tobacco convention. According to the convention, the state may not give the tobacco any privileges or promote tobacco. In fact, the Government is supposed to work with other countries to reduce the use of cigarette smoking and snuff. The convention stipulates strict rules for marketing. Tobacco companies are only allowed to market their products to certain groups, such as employees, business partners and suppliers.
This winter the Swedish Export Council held a seminar in Moscow at the Swedish Embassy in connection with a legislative proposal forbidding snuff. Russia is one of Swedish Match's test markets, just like Canada where Trade Minister Eva Björling, who also lobbies the European Union to the lift the ban on snuff, raised the snuff issue. When she was there this past fall she expressed concern over a Canadian Bill to make certain flavor additives illegal, which would be a blow for the Swedish snuff market.
Anti-tobacco organisations say this violates the Tobacco Control Convention. Cynthia Callard is chairperson of the organisation Doctors for a Smoke-free Canada.
"There is a treaty that says it shouldn't happen. I think it was extremely inappropriate to make a gesture intended to discourage the Canadian Government from strengthening its tobacco laws," says Callard.
There is no doubt that cigarettes are worse than snuff. But Canada has been able to lower the cigarette rates to the same low level as in Sweden without the help of snuff.
Ulf Zetterström, the advisor, says that Swedish snuff would not have much of an effect on public health in Canada. "I think it would be marginal. Snuff is also a stimulant. It's not intended primarily is a quit smoking aide.