In May 2017, Sweden was commended for reaching a smokefree status with its smoking rate dropping to 5%. Fast forward to 2023 and the rate has dropped further, prompting five Members of the European Parliament discuss the successful strategy on the event of World No Tobacco Day.
A recent report highlighted that in the coming months Sweden’s smoking rate will be dropping below 5% and details the approach which led to this success. Anders Milton, one of the report’s authors, highlighted that if other EU countries copied Sweden’s strategy, the situation in Europe would look different.
In fact on the event of World No Tobacco Day on May 31st, MEPs Sara Skyttedal, Johan Nissinen, Tomislav Sokol, Dr Christopher Russel, and Federico N. Fernández, and a group of researchers from global network We Are Innovation, discussed the successful strategy employed by Sweden. This of course is known to have led the nation to achieve the sought after national smoking rate, well ahead of its fellow EU countries.
Meanwhile, the EU has set a goal to achieve this rate by 2040, yet tends to endorse strategies which experts say will be counter productive to reaching it. In fact the average smoking rate across the union remains at around 23%. We Are Innovation conducted research on the factors that helped achieve the impressive smoking rate in Sweden.
Sweden opts for a comprehensive approach
Titled, “Leading the way to a smoke-free Europe: The experience of Sweden,” the paper highlighted Sweden’s holistic approach. While implementing the WHO Framework Convention for Tobacco Control as well as EU legislation and recommendations to the highest standards, with a large focus on prevention, Sweden has also put a great emphasis on incorporating tobacco harm reduction strategies which endorse the use of novel nicotine products, namely snus.
Snus is a moist powder tobacco product that is placed under the upper lip for extended periods. It is mostly popular in Scandinavian countries, however it is only legal in Sweden where it is considered an effective tobacco harm reduction product. In fact, snus has not only led to Sweden boasting the lowest smoking rates in Europe, but more importantly, also to reporting the lowest rates of lung cancer across the continent.
The Swedish government has previously fought hard to be autonomous with regards to any decision based on snus regulations. In fact MEP Skyttedal, remains critical of the EC’s continued unwillingness to recognise the potential of snus and other safer nicotine alternative products, to reduce tobacco-related mortality rates.
In January 2022, Skyttedal formally submitted parliamentary questions concerning snus to the European Commissioner (EC) for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides. The questions came ahead of the February release of the EU’s Beating Cancer Plan, which had left out very crucial harm reduction strategies, such as the inclusion of safer tobacco alternatives.
Efforts to reduce misinformation across Europe
A March press release by the Independent European Vape Alliance (IEVA) discussed a report by three experts from King’s College London and the public health charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) addressing myths about vaping. About 700,000 people in the EU die each year as a result of smoking highlighted the release, and science has proven over and over that this can be avoided.
IEVA president Dustin Dahlmann highlighted that vapes are smokers’ smoking cessation tool of choice. He commended the forward thinking vape policy in the UK. “The facts about harm reduction are on the table. If many more smokers who cannot quit by other means were to switch to e-cigarettes, millions of people worldwide could live better and longer lives. Health policy in the UK should be a shining example to all policy makers,” said Dahlmann.
Last year IEVA launched a new campaign aimed at educating smokers about the benefits and potential of vaping products as harm reduction and smoking cessation tools. The group explained that sadly the number of smokers educated about actual e-cigarettes’ facts remains relatively low, making it unlikely for them to switch to the products, and leaving them at a higher risk for smoke-related diseases.
Setting the record straight
In 2021, the association also launched an informational website for adult smokers and policy makers who want to learn more about vaping. Called Vapingfacts.eu, the aim of the website is providing factual information about vaping products, how they work, and the health benefits smokers would gain by switching from using regular cigarettes to vapes.
Similarly last February, the Independent British Vape Trade Association (IBVTA) launched a webpage containing scientific facts about the products. The page highlighted that despite the vast amount of anti-vape headlines, the science in favour of the products is undeniable.
The informative page elaborates on the following four points:
1.“1. Vaping is much, much safer than smoking.
2.Vaping is the most effective aid to quitting smoking ever known.
3.E-liquid flavours are important to vapers.
4.Vaping is not a gateway to smoking for young people.”
Meanwhile at Vaping Post we contacted Michael Landl, asking whether the EU is, in his opinion, becoming more open to tobacco harm reduction strategies. He explained that while the EU as an institution remains widely hostile, individuals within the institution are starting to open up to the idea.
“Overall, the EU institutions are still too hesitant regarding harm reduction. Especially the EU Commission is openly hostile and critical of harm reduction. When it comes to the parliament, we see progress. MEPs seem more interested in the topic, and more and more MEPs publicly speak up in favour of harm reduction. With the Beating Cancer Plan for the first time, the EU recognised the importance of harm reduction and that was mainly due to pressure from the parliament.”
Landl added that Sweden’s success via tobacco harm reduction strategies will hopefully be an eye opener for the rest of Europe. “The case of Sweden hopefully will be a game changer. We have proof that harm reduction works on a country basis within the EU.”