The Finnish tradition of snus use is as old as the use in Sweden, but when Finland joined the EU in 1995, the EU regulations banned the sale of snus in Finland. Historically, you would find Finnish snus users in the north of Finland. But in recent years the snus use has increased throughout the country and Finnish “snus tourists” are a common feature in Stockholm.
In a report by YLE, they estimate that the black-market snus trade in Finland has a low turnover value of at least €52 million each year. In 2016 Finnish customs seized ca three tonnes of snus. The most common is that snus using Finns buy via the Baltic Sea traffic or in Haparanda in the north of Sweden. 36 percent of Finns say they also buy from private individuals in Finland.
Smoking decreased in Finland
Recently, Finnish media reported that every third person doing military service was using snus and ca six percent of men use snus every day while 18 percent of the Finnish population smoke every day.
In a survey 2018 by the Swedish Trade Research Institute, nine percent say that they have used snus sometime in the last few days. In Sweden, ca 25 percent of men use snus every day and 5 percent smoke every day according to EU statistics. Before 1995, smoking decreased in Finland at the same rate as in Sweden and Norway, a decrease that stopped at the 1995 snus ban. Smoking in Sweden is currently the lowest in the EU and ca half of smoking in Finland.
The ban has been expensive for Finnish public health and that the issue of the ban is publicly discussed and is welcome, says Patrik Strömer, secretary-general of the Swedish Snus Manufacturers’ Association.
Swedish snus producers are preparing
Earlier this year, Switzerland lifted its ban on the sale of snus with the justification that it is impossible to ban because snus is not as harmful as other currently permitted tobacco products. New Zealand has signaled a similar decision.
The Swedish Snus Manufacturers’ Association represents three producers: Swedish Match, Skruf, and Gotlandssnus. All producers are preparing for a Finnish market intrusion if the snus ban is lifted. The giant Swedish Match is at the forefront to enter the new market.
For several years, Swedish Match has fought in vain to sell snus in the EU's internal market. Last November, the European Court of Justice ruled that the ban on selling snus in the EU remains. If Finland decides to proceed with the repeal of the 1995 decision, an exemption similar to Sweden will likely be worked out.
The illegal snus market in Finland Documentary
According to a YouTube documentary over 7000 women and 50 000 men use snus every day in Finland.
Where do they buy it from?
- Facebook groups
- You can find 98 groups on snus on Facebook. Some of them have over 20 000 members. The groups are secret but are easy to access. When you become a member the trading can begin. You find a seller and after arranging a meeting you pay with cash for the snus. The trade takes place in public places without a problem. But according to the documentary, it has happened that the seller has been robbed.
- Border trade with the Swedish town Haparanda in the north of Sweden/Finland. Haparanda has a population of 4 500 people and in 2016 the biggest shop in Haparanda had a turnover of €20M.
- Most users import their snus.
Supply and demand
With the large snus demand and many sellers the price have dropped from €50 to €35 for a 10-pack Odens cold dry in a couple of years. In 2016 3 400 kg snus was confiscated by the customs with a value of €500 000. This amount is one hundred times more than what was confiscated in 2012.
According to the customs, the most popular snus to smuggle was Oden cold dry. You probably find 50 times more adverts for Odens cold dry online than any other brand.
A profitable business
One seller in the documentary sells 4 boxes of Oden per month, 96 ten-packs, with a profit of €1 200. And as banks are required to ask where large cash deposits come from, many sellers keep their money at home.
The legal import limit
The legal import limit is one kg per day. Any amount over that limit gets taxed at €37 cents per gram. If you get caught with 3 ten-pack over the limit, you have to pay over €1000 in tax. The penalty for tax fraud and smuggling can be up to a maximum of two years in prison.
Snus is an illegal gift in Finland
If you get snus as a gift it is considered illegal import and render a fine or a maximum of 1.5 years in prison.
Buyers from all social classes
According to one seller in the documentary, the buyers come from all part of society. Hospital workers, construction industry, fire department, and even the police.
Snus and the Finnish press
The risk of getting caught is minimal but it's still possible. The press in Finland report every month about sentences related to snus. Some accused have been sentenced with fines up to 100 000€ together with a jail sentence.
A citizen initiative to legalize snus
An initiative by the citizen to legalize snus has been established in Finland. 27 000 Finns have signed the initiative since 2018.
Finnish snus makers
A result of the snus ban in Finland is that many Finnish snus users make their snus at home. Though it is illegal to buy snus in Finland it's still legal to make your snus and to grow your tobacco. One snus user who grows his tobacco to make snus is Jan Lindholm as reported in this YLE article. But you can not sell or give away any of the snus you produce at home. At the moment, the Ministry of Health in Finland thinks it can be legal to grow tobacco for snus production because so few people do it. But in Sweden, it has become something of a movement to make your snus at home due to the high taxation of snus.
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Bengt Wiberg, the inventor of sting-free snus, corrected me on the number of snus users in Finland. According to Finnish statistics ca 4% of the population use snus, which is ca 155 000 snus users.
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