Sweden has by far the lowest rates of people dying from smoking related diseases, compared to the other EU countries. The reason is very simple: we have by far the lowest rates of smoking.
In Sweden, smoking prevalence is 13%, compared to the EU average of 28%. (The second best EU country has a smoking prevalence of 23%, close to the average.) Half as many people smoke, which has led to half as many people dying from smoking in Sweden compared to the rest of the EU.
This is because snus is legal in Sweden (but not in any other EU country), which has given Swedish smokers the possibility to switch from smoking cigarettes to using snus. This represents a major health benefit, because although snus is not a healthy product in itself, snus is between 90 and 99% less dangerous than smoking.
If you are a smoker, the best thing is of course if you can give up all forms of nicotine use completely. But if you are unable or unwilling to do this, switching from cigarettes to snus is almost as good from a health perspective. Thanks to snus, Sweden is a remarkable success story in the fight against tobacco induced death and diseases.
It can often be tricky to compare numbers between different countries, as there can be many different factors that explain any differences in the numbers, but in this particular case it is pretty clear.
Sweden’s two closest neighbours, Denmark and Finland, both have twice the smoking prevalence of Sweden: 26% in Denmark, and 25% in Finland. Both Denmark and Finland are very culturally similar to Sweden, but yet smoking is twice as common there as it is in Sweden.
There simply is no other plausible explanation than snus why Sweden is doing so much better in its efforts to reduce smoking than the rest of Europe, including culturally similar Denmark and Finland.
Smoking kills 700.000 persons per year prematurely, according to the statistics presented by the European Commission. I have no reason to doubt these statistics. Tobacco smoking is the number one preventable cause of death in the developed world.
This means that if we could reduce smoking in the rest of the EU down to Swedish levels, we would save 350.000 lives per year.
Against this background, I find it completely unacceptable that the EU Commission proposes to continue the present ban on snus in all the EU countries except Sweden. With this many lives at stake, it is quite simply immoral that the Commission is not even prepared to let member states who would want to follow Sweden’s example, and use snus as part of a harm reduction strategy, to do so if they want to.
This is, in essence, what I said last week in the Committee for the Internal Market and Consumer Protection IMCO, when we had an exchange of views on the revision of the Tobacco Products Directive.
By lifting the ban on snus on the EU level, and allowing each member state to develop its own policy in this area, we can potentially save hundreds of thousands of lives per year in Europe. Not exploring this possibility is just immoral.
You can watch the video of my intervention on Youtube (6 min).
With so many lives at stake, we have an obligation to address this matter in a calm and evidence based manner, rather than upholding the EU ban on a smoke-free product that demonstrably saves lives.
Declaration of interest: I am a snus user, which has allowed me to cut down my smoking drastically, even though I have not stopped completely yet. My wife used to smoke, but gave it up completely several years ago by switching to eucalyptus flavoured snus.