Stockholm: Few things get Swedish snus users more riled up than the European Union's (EU) ban on oral snuff, and Trade Minister Ewa Bjorling is no exception.

As Stockholm prepares to host the rotating EU presidency in July, Bjorling is spearheading a campaign to lift the bloc's prohibition on snus, a moist tobacco product as steeped in Swedish tradition as pickled herring or crisp bread.

"I get upset when I think about how unfair this is," the former dental surgeon said in a recent interview, noting that the snus pouches she slips under her upper lip helped her quit smoking about three years ago.

For years Sweden fought a lonely battle against the directive that bars sales of snus - pronounced 'snoos' - in all EU countries except Sweden. But the government's renewed snuff crusade comes amid growing debate internationally about smokeless tobacco's potential as a less harmful alternative for smokers who fail to shake the nicotine habit.

Pragmatists say snus should be allowed to compete with nicotine-replacement products in the effort to snub out the much bigger threat of cigarettes. Anti-snus campaigners counter that snus is a highly addictive product whose health effects are unclear. Embracing it, they say, would only serve tobacco companies looking for new ways to deliver nicotine.

"It's not a harmless product," said Dr Gunilla Bolinder, chief physician at Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm and a veteran snus researcher.

Documented ill-effects range from stained teeth to increased risk of diabetes and fatal heart attacks.