Swedens status as the only country in the EU where snus is legal has created a growing underground manufacturing operation, broadcaster SVT reported on Saturday.
More popular than cigarettes in Sweden, snus is a moist tobacco product either bought loose or in small parcels and placed under the lip. Its export to and sale within other EU countries is banned, and the EU has consistently opted to maintain that restriction, with Sweden granted an exception and allowed to sell the product within its borders.
But demand for snus beyond Swedens borders is growing. So too is the number of Swedish operations apparently willing to break the law to meet the demand by producing and selling snus in secret. According to SVT, some snus manufacturers skirt the export ban by running illegal snus sales alongside their legal activities. But the broadcaster said there is also a flourishing black market in which snus is sold under fake labels.
“The knowledge is here since we have a long history of production. That makes Sweden a good starting point for the production of illegal snus,” Magnus Råsten of the Swedish Economic Crime Authority (Ekobrottsmyndigheten – EBM) told SVT.
EBM has reported an uptick in illegal snus production in recent years, particularly in Gothenburg. But the agency does not have an overview of how much of the tobacco product is being manufactured and sold illegally.
“Illegal manufacturing can in some cases be part of serious criminality but there are also manufacturers who are primarily engaged in legal activities,” Råsten said. “In contrast to drugs or weapons, its not as risky to get into the snus business because it is not illegal in Sweden. That also makes it harder for us to assess whether the activity is legal.”
According to Råsten, much of the foreign demand for snus comes from Norway, Finland and Russia.
"There is a market that people want to reach," he said. "When there is money to be made, criminality often follows."