Sweden is close to declaring itself Europe’s first “smoke-free” country, defined as having less than 5 percent of the population’s daily smokers.
Some experts have said Sweden’s smoking rate, the lowest in the European Union, is due to decades of anti-smoking campaigns and legislation, while others point to the prevalence of ‘snus’, a banned smokeless tobacco product. elsewhere in the EU but marketed in Sweden as an alternative to cigarettes.
The 5 percent milestone is now within reach, as statistics from the Swedish Public Health Agency show that the daily smoking rate reached 5.6 percent last year.
By comparison, 13.3% of British adults smoke cigarettes, which is equivalent to around 6.6 million people, according to the latest government figures for 2021.
Meanwhile, just 6.4% of Swedes aged 15 and over smoked daily in 2019, the lowest figure in the EU and well below the 27-country bloc average of 18.5%, according to the agency. of Eurostat statistics.
People enjoy drinks and snacks in the afternoon sun on a terrace overlooking Stockholm on Tuesday. Smoking is prohibited in the indoor and outdoor areas of bars and restaurants in Sweden, which has the lowest proportion of smokers in the European Union.
Sweden, which has the lowest smoking rate in Europe, is now close to declaring itself “smoke-free.” Some experts credit decades of anti-smoking campaigns and laws, while others point to the prevalence of ‘snus’ (pictured), a smokeless tobacco product that is illegal elsewhere in the European Union but is marketed in Sweden as an alternative to cigarettes.
Figures from the Swedish Public Health Agency show that the smoking rate has continued to fall since then, reaching 5.6 percent last year.
Carina Astorsson, a Stockholm resident, said: “We like a healthy way of living, I think that’s why.”
Smoking never interested him, he added, because ‘I don’t like the smell; I want to take care of my body’.
The risks of smoking appear to be well understood among health conscious Swedes, including the younger generation.
Twenty years ago, almost 20 percent of the population smoked, which was a low rate globally at the time. Since then, measures to discourage smoking have reduced smoking rates across Europe, including a ban on smoking in restaurants.
France saw record drops in smoking rates from 2014 to 2019, but that success stalled during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, blamed in part for causing stress that led people to smoke.
About a third of people aged 18 to 75 in France reported having smoked in 2021, a slight increase on 2019. About a quarter smoke daily.
Sweden has gone further than most to eradicate cigarettes and says this has resulted in a number of health benefits, including a relatively low rate of lung cancer.
Ulrika Arehed, general secretary of the Swedish Cancer Society, said: “We were early in restricting smoking in public spaces, first in schoolyards and after-school centers, and then in restaurants, outdoor cafes and public places like bus stations.
‘At the same time, taxes on cigarettes and strict restrictions on the marketing of these products have played an important role.’
A man holds a snuffbox in a shop in Stockholm, Sweden (file image)
He added that “Sweden is not there yet,” noting that the proportion of smokers is higher in disadvantaged socioeconomic groups.
The sight of people lighting up is increasingly rare in the country of 10.5 million. Smoking is prohibited at bus stops and train platforms and outside the entrances of hospitals and other public buildings.
As in most of Europe, smoking is not allowed inside bars and restaurants, but since 2019 Sweden’s smoking ban also applies to its outdoor seating areas.
Swedish snus makers have long championed their product as a less harmful alternative to smoking and claim credit for lowering smoking rates in the country. But Swedish health authorities are reluctant to advise smokers to switch to snus, another highly addictive nicotine product.
Some studies have linked snus to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and premature birth if used during pregnancy.
The World Health Organization (WHO) attributes the decline in the smoking rate in Sweden to a combination of tobacco control measures, including information campaigns, advertising bans and “quit support” for those who want to quit tobacco .
However, the agency noted that tobacco use in Sweden is more than 20% of the adult population, similar to the world average, when snus and similar products are included.
“Switching from one harmful product to another is not a solution,” the WHO said. “Promoting the so-called ‘harm reduction approach’ to smoking is another way the tobacco industry is trying to mislead people about the inherently dangerous nature of these products.”
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