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Smoke free Sweden: Why are Swedes stubbing out their cigarettes?

A lit cigarette.
A lit cigarette. Copyright Canva Stock Images
Copyright Canva Stock Images
By Joshua Askew
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The Scandinavian country is a trailblazer when it comes to quitting smoking, but other forms of tobacco consumption are still popular.

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Sweden is on course to become one of the world's first "smoke-free" countries, defined as less than 5% of the adult population smoking. 

It is set to achieve this significant milestone in the coming months - 17 years ahead of the EU's 2040 target, with smoking rates falling from 15% to 5.6% over the past 15 years. 

"No other EU country is even close to replicating this," Dr Delon Human, co-author of a report 'The Swedish Experience: A Roadmap to a Smoke-Free Society' report, told Euronews. 

He pointed to Sweden's "groundbreaking strategy" to tackle smoking, noting how smokers are helped to switch to "less harmful" alternatives, such as snus, nicotine pouches and vapes. 

"This comes at a time when other countries are banning the use of reduced-risk products," Dr Human continued. 

Popular in Nordic countries snus is a type of dry tobacco that is put on the gums. Selling it is illegal in every EU country - bar Sweden and Croatia, although it is widely used in Finland, Denmark, and Estonia.

Snus is linked to an increased risk of mouth and throat cancer. 

Declaring war on smoking, Portugal recently banned e-cigarettes from being smoked in outdoor spaces next to public buildings, following in the steps of several other European countries. 

"There are no risk-free tobacco products, but e-cigarettes, for example, are 95% less harmful than cigarettes," Dr Human told Euronews. "It is far better for a smoker to switch from traditional cigarettes to alternative products than to continue smoking."

Though better for human health, vapes impact the environment. Adding to tobacco waste - already one of the biggest sources of plastic pollution in the world, two e-cigarettes are thrown away every second in the UK, according to research by Material Focus.  

What impact has quitting smoking had on Sweden?

And it is paying off. 

"The benefits of Sweden’s strategy are enormous," said Dr Human. 

He pointed to statistics showing the country has the lowest percentage of tobacco-related diseases in the EU and a 41% lower incidence of cancer than other European countries.

Swedes also have nearly a 40% lower death rate for tobacco-related diseases, such as strokes, heart and lung diseases, emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

While providing smokers with a greater choice of alternatives has played a role, education and tobacco control measures have also helped people quit smoking. 

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Figures from the Tax Foundation show that cigarettes were taxed at €4.51 in Sweden in2021, putting it around the EU average. 

France and Ireland levy the highest exercise duties on cigarettes in the EU, while Bulgari and Poland impose the lowest. 

Smoke Free Sweden, a campaign group, says the trend of stubbing out saves more than 3,400 lives each year, adding that 2.84 million lives across the EU could have been saved, if the bloc had followed their example. 

The NGO is trying to expand its efforts to other countries, such as Brazil, claiming it has a "public health gift" for the world. 

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The worst offenders for smoking in Europe are Bulgaria with 28.2% of the population consuming tobacco daily; then Turkey (27.3%), Greece (27.2%), Hungary (25.8%) and Latvia (24.9%), according to data compiled by the European statistical agency, Eurostat. 

Greeks were historically some of the heaviest smokers in Europe. However, studies have shown that the country's brutal economic crisis caused consumption to fall. 

Sweden has battled cigarettes for years. Smoking was banned in all bars and restaurants in early 2005. 

In 2019, the ban was extended to include outdoor seating in bars and restaurants as well as public places.

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