Sweden is set to become the first smoke-free country in Europe, according to a new report released on March 14th, 2023. The report, entitled “The Swedish Experience: A roadmap for a smoke-free society,” details the country’s groundbreaking strategy to minimize the harmful effects of tobacco smoking and save lives. No other country in the European Union is currently on track to achieve this level of success in reducing smoking rates.
Sweden’s approach combines tobacco control methods with harm minimisation strategies, and could save 3.5 million lives in the next decade if other EU countries adopt similar measures, according to the report’s authors. The Swedish model combines recommendations from the WHO Framework Convention for Tobacco Control, including reducing the supply and demand of tobacco and banning smoking in certain places, with accepting smoke-free products as less harmful alternatives.
“There are no risk-free tobacco products, but e-cigarettes, for example, are 95% less harmful than cigarettes,” explains Dr. Delon Human, one of the report’s authors. “It is far better for a smoker to switch from regular cigarettes to e-cigarettes or nicotine pouches than to continue smoking.”
Sweden’s strategy has already produced significant public health benefits, with the country having the lowest percentage of tobacco-related diseases in the EU and a 41% lower incidence of cancer than other European countries. The percentage of smokers in Sweden has dropped from 15 percent to 5.6 percent of the population in just 15 years, putting the country on track to achieve smoke-free status 17 years ahead of the EU’s 2040 target.
The report was commissioned by Health Diplomats, an international organization working to improve access to healthcare, encourage innovation and the use of harm reduction to minimize the negative impact of alcohol, food, nicotine and drugs. The authors of the report, including Dr. Anders Milton, formerly chairman of the Swedish Medical Association, Prof. Karl Fagerström, an internationally recognized expert in addiction research and smoking cessation, and Dr. Delon Human, a physician specializing in global public health issues, call for other countries to recognize smoke-free products as less harmful and provide fact-based information, as well as policy decisions that make smoke-free alternatives more accessible than cigarettes.
In addition, the authors suggest differentiated tax rates that give smokers financial incentives to switch from cigarettes to less harmful alternatives. The report emphasizes that Sweden’s successful tobacco strategy should be exported, and that it would be of enormous benefit to the world if more countries implemented similar measures.
The report’s release comes as Sweden is on track to drop below a 5% tobacco smoking prevalence rate in the coming months, making it the first country in Europe to achieve smoke-free status. According to the report, if all other EU countries adopted Sweden’s approach, 3.5 million lives could be saved in the coming decade in the EU alone.
The authors also note that there are no risk-free tobacco products, and that quitting smoking altogether is the best option for public health. However, harm reduction strategies like those employed in Sweden can provide a valuable alternative for those struggling to quit smoking.
The report’s findings have been met with praise from public health experts around the world. “Sweden’s groundbreaking approach to tobacco control and harm minimisation is an inspiring example for other countries to follow,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization. “By recognizing the harm reduction potential of smoke-free alternatives, Sweden has set a new standard for public health that should be emulated globally.”
As the world continues to grapple with the health effects of smoking and tobacco use, Sweden’s success in reducing smoking rates and improving public health serves as a valuable example for other countries to follow. The release of this report marks a major milestone in the fight against smoking-related illnesses and deaths, and highlights the important role that harm reduction strategies can play in improving public health outcomes.
The report’s emphasis on harm reduction strategies and acceptance of smoke-free alternatives represents a major shift in the approach to tobacco control, which has traditionally focused on reducing demand for all tobacco products, without distinguishing between harmful and less harmful ones. The authors of the report hope that Sweden’s success will encourage other countries to adopt a similar approach and recognize the potential of harm reduction strategies to save lives.
In recent years, smoking rates have declined in many countries, thanks to a combination of public health campaigns, tobacco taxes, and smoke-free legislation. However, tobacco use still remains the leading cause of preventable deaths worldwide, with over 8 million people dying from tobacco-related illnesses each year. Harm reduction strategies that encourage smokers to switch to less harmful alternatives, like e-cigarettes and nicotine pouches, offer a promising avenue for reducing the harm caused by tobacco use.
As countries around the world grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on public health, the importance of reducing smoking rates and promoting harm reduction strategies has become even more urgent. The respiratory effects of COVID-19 can be particularly severe for smokers, and quitting smoking has been identified as a key way to reduce the risk of severe illness from the virus. By adopting harm reduction strategies like those employed in Sweden, countries can not only reduce smoking rates and save lives but also improve public health outcomes more broadly.
Overall, the report’s release represents a major step forward in the fight against smoking-related illnesses and deaths, and highlights the importance of harm reduction strategies in tobacco control. As countries around the world look for ways to improve public health and reduce the harm caused by tobacco use, Sweden’s success offers a valuable example of what can be achieved through a combination of tobacco control methods and harm minimization strategies.