Snuff is a tobacco substance, which has a long tradition and is very popular in Sweden. While the sale of snuff has been banned in the European Union since 1992, Sweden was granted an exemption from this ban for the Swedish market when it became a European Union member in 1995.
A Swedish snuff brand had marketed their products by means of commercial messages stating that the tobacco was ecological, ECO and similar, through labels and signs with texts such as "Ecological tobacco" and "ECO 1005 ecological tobacco" at the point of sales.
As a general rule and subject to few exemptions marketing of tobacco products is prohibited. Certain marketing at the point of sale can permitted. Neutral product information, inventory lists and price lists may be used provided that the marketing meets the requirement of specific moderation. This implies that the marketing cannot be constructed in a way that encourages tobacco use. Furthermore, according to Swedish case law, subjective opinions that are irrelevant for the product information cannot be used.
The Swedish Consumer Ombudsman (CO) challenged the claims by the snuff brand before the Swedish Patent and Market Court (PMC). The CO argued that the marketing of the products as ecological was breaching the requirement of specific moderation, since such a claim by itself automatically encouraged consumption and use. In an alternative claim, the CO argued that the claims had been designed in a way that encouraged the use of tobacco.
The PMC held that the challenged claims gave the impression that the company's snuff was less harmful than other snuff, and the claim "ECO" arouses interest for consumers and encourages the use of tobacco.Moreover, the PMC held that the colorful and appealing design of the labels and signs enhanced the impression that company's products had certain health and environmental benefits. Consequently the PMC ordered the snuff brand to cease with the marketing subject to a conditional fine of 1,000,000 SEK.
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