PM snuffs out dull image

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The Independent Online
'GREY toughie arrives in Sweden.' With that front-page headline, Sweden's leading morning newspaper greeted the first visit of a British prime minister since Harold Wilson in 1969, writes Annika Savill.

The same day, the toughie - John Major having sacked two close friends from his cabinet - and his bespectacled Swedish counterpart, Carl Bildt, announced a joint operation to take in Bosnian victims. The next morning, the pair acquired an improbable hooligan air when the helicopter carrying them to lunch on the island of Moja, famed for its beer brawls, tore the awning off a restaurant.

A key topic of discussion was wet snuff. 'Swedish snuff is used almost exclusively in Sweden by Swedish snuffers so it does seem a bit odd that EC restrictions should stop us marketing snuff in Sweden,' said a Swedish diplomat. 'There may be up to 800,000 snuffers in the country.'

Inserted not up the nose but under the upper lip, snuff nowadays comes mostly in tea-bag-like pouches which minimise the black juice running down snuffers' teeth. Sweden hopes to appeal to an EC escape clause which allows exceptions for products with strong national traditions. In other words, Mr Major's subsidiarity may save Swedish snuff.

'We see Britain as an ally,' said one analyst. 'The Swedes hope there will emerge a voting bloc in the EC of Germany, Britain and the Nordic countries - a sort of north European, Protestant club.'