If there’s one thing Swedes feel protective about, it’s their snus — a tobacco pouch that’s placed under the lip and delivers a powerful nicotine punch.
So when Aftonbladet, a Swedish tabloid, recently published a report suggesting that Brussels was planning to double taxes on snus, the response from Swedes was predictably explosive.
The hashtag #Swexit, shorthand for Sweden exiting the European Union, began trending on Twitter, while furious Swedes lit up social media with over-my-dead-body memes touting their attachment to the stuff, which is only legal in Sweden.
Joining other outraged Swedish politicians, the country’s new finance minister, Elisabeth Svantesson, called the proposal “unreasonable,” and Ylva Johansson, Sweden’s European commissioner, told a national radio station that she had explained to the colleague behind the proposal, the Italian Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni, why it didn’t make sense.
“We could handle straight cucumbers, but snus is something else,” quipped one Swedish official, referring to a debunked British tabloid story suggesting the EU was going legislate on the straightness of cucumbers.
— Victor “WaltherIV” Valtersson (@WaltherIV) November 27, 2022
Even the president of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, who’s leading a delegation from the chamber to Stockholm on Wednesday, was caught up in snus-gate. “Very hot issue in the family,” Metsola, whose husband is Finnish, told Swedish news agency TT ahead of her trip.
This was a step too far for the EU.
Breaking with a tradition of not commenting on leaks, the European Commission addressed the Aftonbladet story this week, saying the EU had no plans to double the tax on snus because the stuff has been illegal outside of Sweden since 1995, and was therefore exempt from bloc-wide taxation rules on tobacco products.
“Sweden will keep its full freedom in deciding on its taxation and excise duty on snus,” a spokesperson said earlier this week.
That went some way toward soothing Swedes’ fears. “The furor has died down,” said one Swedish EU official.
But not everyone is ready to move on.
Charlie Weimers, an EU lawmaker for the far-right Sweden Democrats party, said he wouldn’t be satisfied until the European Commission provided a written guarantee that it wouldn’t be taxing snus. “Nowhere is it written that Sweden is free to set its own taxation levels on snus,” he told Swedish Radio.
In the meantime, Sweden stands ready to defend its preferred under-the-lip tobacco product against any future challenges.
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