Joseph Hart 7 June 2023


The UK, Scottish, and EU governments have made various timeline commitments to going “smoke free.” While this goal — reducing smoking prevalence to below 5% — is hugely ambitious, Sweden is already leading the way.

Most European countries are behind target on their plans for reducing smoking to below 5%. It’s a big ask, and despite health data showing tobacco risks, a particular portion of the public remains stubbornly resistant to giving up or pivoting to harm reduction alternatives, like nicotine pouches or vaping.

A brand new report called “The Swedish Experience: A roadmap for a smoke-free society” could be just the guidance needed.

, If World Leaders are Serious About “Smoke Free” Targets, They Should Take Sweden’s Lead, The Daily Pouch
‘Smoke Free Sweden’ event in Warsaw (June 2023)

What does the report say?
The Swedish Experience report has much to say about reducing smoking with a sensible harm-reduction approach.

While many countries have targets of being smoke-free by 2030 or 2040, Sweden looks set to hit that goal this year.

The benefits are already throughout Sweden being felt, with “lower cancer rates and tobacco-related deaths.” According to the report, cancer rates are 41% lower than other EU member states.

How did Sweden lower its tobacco smoking rates?
In the early 1960s, Sweden had a smoking prevalence rate of 49%. However, adopting a sensible approach to tobacco harm reduction has levelled those rates.

Their tobacco controls are similar to other EU member states, with policies regarding reducing the supply of tobacco and public smoking bans. However, there is one crucial difference: a long-standing commitment to providing a credible harm reduction alternative.

Snus, a smoke-free tobacco alternative that you place under your top lip, has been popular in the region for a long time. Married to this, Swedes have also been receptive to tobacco-free alternatives, like vaping.

According to the report, Sweden reduced its tobacco smoking prevalence by 60% between 2008 and 2020. At the same time, EU states recorded a drop of 25%.

, If World Leaders are Serious About “Smoke Free” Targets, They Should Take Sweden’s Lead, The Daily Pouch

Why is snus not available in most of Europe?
The EU banned snus-like products in Europe in 1992. In effect, it was because the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the product was carcinogenic. The rules meant that only Sweden and Norway could legally sell snus.

When Sweden joined the EU in the mid-90s, one of its conditions was an insistence that it could sell snus. While further attempts to ban snus have surfaced over recent years, the Swedes have held firm. Indeed, about 12% use the product.

Tobacco-free snus alternatives
Despite restrictions on oral tobacco, alternatives have emerged. Nicotine pouches give the same sensation, but they have no tobacco, meaning they can be purchased legally across the UK and Europe.

With Sweden guiding the smoke-free way, nicotine pouches can replicate that success while staying compliant with laws regarding organic tobacco.

Of course, there are roadblocks. A puritanical and anti-evidence approach to harm-reduction products across the EU means that even tobacco-free products are coming under scrutiny.

This backward approach to reducing smoking rates threatens to derail the EU’s attempts to hit its smoke-free targets. Worse still, it jeopardises the health and lives of millions of citizens.

Contacting politicians and lawmakers to protect these products is essential. While some people will give up cold turkey, the reality is that a portion of the population needs something to replace their cravings.

, If World Leaders are Serious About “Smoke Free” Targets, They Should Take Sweden’s Lead, The Daily Pouch

Final thoughts
The Swedish Experience report suggests that matching Sweden’s reduction in cancer mortality rates across Europe would save 3.5 million lives over the next decade. However, Sweden didn’t achieve these figures by restricting access to cigarettes.

By encouraging smokeless or tobacco-free alternatives, Sweden has reduced smoking rates steadily. While snus might not be available in the UK, nicotine pouches are. If the UK wants to meet its smoke-free targets, it should look to Sweden for inspiration.

Header Photo by Mark König on Unsplash