Swedish Match to challenge EU snus ban in UK court

STOCKHOLM, July 1 (Reuters) - Tobacco products maker Swedish Match said on Friday it had started proceedings in Britain’s High Court of Justice to challenge a European Union ban on its wet snuff product snus.

Snus, which is wet pasteurised tobacco placed under the upper lip, is popular in Norway and Sweden and becoming popular in the U.S., but is banned in the EU due to health concerns, except in Sweden, which has an exemption.

Swedish Match spokesman Patrik Hildingsson said the firm filed a claim form in Britain on Friday, calling on the court to ask the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to revisit the legal grounds of the ban.

“We are asking the UK court to make a reference to the European Court of Justice on the validity of article 17 in the Tobacco Products Directive,” Swedish Match said in an email.

Swedish Match said the legal circumstances for the original ban had changed because novel tobacco products and e-cigarettes were allowed in the recent directive.

“The novelty of snus has been one of the main arguments for not allowing snus on the internal market. That circumstance has now changed,” it said.

Should the British court refer the case to the ECJ, Swedish Match expects a ruling mid-2018 at the earliest, it said.

Hildingsson said the procedure to make a reference to the ECJ was available to courts in some EU member states but not in Sweden.

Sweden, Swedish Match’s by far biggest market for snus, negotiated its exemption from the EU ban in connection with its EU entry in 1995. (Reporting by Anna Ringstrom; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)