Joseph Hart 13 June 2023


At the start of July, the EU Subcommittee on Public Health (SANT) had a hearing on “Preventing non-communicable diseases”. Part of the focus of the meeting was tobacco consumption and its related health outcomes.

The EU has a long-stated goal to reduce smoking prevalence to below 5% by 2040. Sweden is on target to hit those numbers this year. Brussels seems ready to listen at last. 

Some of the MEPs involved include Croatia’s Tomislav Sokol and Sweden’s Sara Skyttedal and Johan Nissinen. The panel also contains two well-known names from the tobacco harm reduction world: CEO of We Are Innovation Federico N. Fernández and Dr Christopher Russell, PhD.

What is under discussion at SANT?

MEP Tomislav Sokol suggests, “The critical issue at hand is the comparison of cases between traditional smokers and those who utilise Alternative Nicotine Products (ANPs)”. The products include e-cigarettes, snus, and nicotine pouches.

While all of this is a positive step, we shouldn’t get too excited. Sokol has also suggested that “the policies we establish must strategically prevent these products from becoming a stepping stone to smoking.” Of course, there is no evidence that ANPs lead to cigarette smoking, which makes his statement, “It’s important to ensure our approach remains data-driven, rather than ideologically driven,” all the more curious.

Sokol follows up with the usual refrain that “we still require more comprehensive data”. As anyone paying attention knows, the EU moves at a glacial pace. Many lives will be lost while the bureaucrats ruminate on whether they should adopt Sweden’s model over lavish lunches.

Sweden MEP Sara Skyttedal offers a more sensible take. She states that the EU’s “primary goal should be encouraging people to stop smoking cigarettes” before cautioning against over-regulation or bans of ANPs that may lead to “unintended consequences”. We’re looking at you, Netherlands!

Another Swedish MEP, Johan Nissinen, hits the nail on the head when he argues that if lethal products like cigarettes can be legally sold, then “it stands to reason that alternative nicotine products should also have a legal standing.”  

Nissinen goes on to say, “I trust in the capacity of individuals to make informed, healthier choices.” Thinking like that must make Nissinen a dangerous quantity in Brussels.

In line with the news about the hearing, We Are Innovations CEO Federico N. Fernández underlines Sweden’s approach to getting to a smoking rate of 5%. He acknowledges that the country has adopted strict regulations like the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. However, it has married these regulations with “creative solutions for a smoke-free future.”

For Fernández, the key to reducing smoking rates are the ‘three As’: availability, acceptability, and affordability. When smokers have accessible and healthy products to choose from, they will make the right choices. 

Dr Christopher Russell provides perhaps the most impactful and critical points of all, stating, “the Swedish approach has led to notable health outcomes, making Sweden the European country with the lowest rates of tobacco-related diseases.” 

Swedish cancer rates are about 40% less than EU averages. The country has allowed citizens to access snus for years. Now, with the advent of nicotine pouches, it is once again embracing a product that can make a big difference in the health outcomes of its citizens. 

It’s incredible that the EU has taken so long to sit up and notice.

text under the eu flag
Photo by Angel Bena on

Final thoughts

It’s encouraging that the EU is listening to sensible voices in the harm reduction community.

Many EU lawmakers and influential figures in the WHO seem to favour the stick over the carrot. These organisations’ approach is about stifling the choice of the people they’re supposed to represent. Perhaps if they thought a bit more of EU citizens, they’d understand that people can be trusted to make their own decisions. This hearing is a step in the right direction.