The EU should rethink its anti-smoking policies, adopting the Swedish model instead

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Today, on 31 May, which is World Tobacco Day, proclaimed by the WHO to draw attention to the global adverse health impacts of smoking, consumers and Members of the European Parliament have urged the EU to follow the Swedish example of a successful smoking-cessation strategy, as the EU struggles to develop a sensible approach to combat smoking-rates.

Sweden is about to become the first smoke-free country in the world and nobody seems to recognize this incredible success story. It is time that policymakers across the EU and the globe recognize the Swedish miracle happening in front of our eyes. Comparative data on Sweden and other developed countries show that the Swedes have been able to reduce smoking rates much more rapidly than any other country. The contrast with countries that placed more restrictive and illiberal policies on tobacco harm reduction products is stark.

Beat Smoking Like the Swedes

Between 2012 and 2022, the adult smoking rate in Sweden has been reduced more than two times faster than in Spain, six times faster than in Germany, and almost twelve times more quickly than in Italy. How did Sweden manage to reduce smoking rates so rapidly where other countries stalled? The answer is tobacco harm reduction.

To urge the EU Commission to finally change it’s failing approch, the World Vapers’ Alliance was joint by Considerate Pouchers (another consumer organization) and two Members of Parliament, Charlie Weimers and Johan Nissinen to celebrate the Swedish anti-smoking miracle.

In the course of an press conference organised by the World Vapers’ Alliance, MEP Charlie Weimers highlighted the Swedis success and said that: “Policy should be evidence based. The WHO will soon classify Sweden as Europe’s first smoke-free country because of harm reduction policies and wide spread use of snus.” Carissa During form Considerate Pouchers also stated that snus that has helped millions quit smoking and has been safely used for more than 200 years in Sweden.

Total abstinence would be the idealised goal of many, but also highly unrealistic. We clearly see there is a demand for nicotine consumption. That is the reason why we see millions of smokers worldwide. What products such as snus, vaping, and nicotine pouches do is separate the most harmful components of smoking from nicotine consumption. While it is not entirely risk-free, it is a way less harmful way of consuming nicotine than smoking. So every smoker switching to these products is an improvement of public health.

The availability and affordability of these less harmful alternatives is one of the main drivers of the rapid decline of the smoking rate in Sweden. Sweden closed 2022 with a daily smokers rate of just 5.6 per cent – the lowest in the EU – and is expected to meet the below 5% smoking prevalence rate this year. 17 years ahead of the target set by the EU. To draw attention to this incredible achievement, the World Vapers’ Alliance held a protest in front of the European Parliament slashing a giant cigarette in representation of the Swedish success.

At the same time, the EU and many countries are choosing the opposite strategy, thereby failing bitterly. Currently, the smoking rate in the EU as a whole is at 25 per cent. EU politicians must wake up and follow the Swedish way of dealing with smoking immediately. There are still 700,000 people dying every year across the continent. Nevertheless, the EU plans to crack down further on the alternatives. Higher taxation and flavour bans are still on the agenda and are pushed by the EU Commission, whilst the legalization of snus is nowhere to be seen. Ironically the only country with an exception to the snus ban shows the most success in the fight against smoking, namely Sweden.

Is the tide changing?

During the same event, MEP Nissinen urged the EU to follow a harm reduction approach: Sweden is the best example of how this is achievable, namely with a pragmatic harm reduction approach. It is the only country in the EU where snus is legal and popular with 18% of the population using it. Consuming snus instead of cigarettes saved many Swedish lives. It is time that the EU Commission expects this reality and starts acting accordingly.”

From a consumer perspective, it is highly encouraging to see more and more politicians speaking up in favor of harm reduction pushing back against the attacks on the most successful smoking cessation aids. Sweden is the world leader of tobacco harm reduction and the rest of the EU should learn from the Swedish experience. 700,000 deaths per year should be reason enough to start listening to science, consumers and public health experts.

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