By Federico N. Fernández, We Are Innovation
While the vision of a smoke-free society is ardently adopted and championed by entities like the European Union (EU) and the World Health Organization (WHO), Sweden stands out in this journey. The country’s smoking prevalence is at an impressive low of 5.6 percent and is projected to achieve its smoke-free status this year. Remarkably, this is two years ahead of its target and a staggering 17 years ahead of the EU’s.
How did Sweden outpace the rest of Europe in this health marathon? The answer lies in its comprehensive approach to smoking reduction, which blends tradition and innovation.
Sweden employs rigorous traditional measures recommended by WHO and EU to curtail smoking, while simultaneously leveraging innovations in nicotine alternatives. This has catalyzed a significant number of Swedes to transition from smoking cigarettes to using Alternative Nicotine Products (ANPs) like snus, vaping, nicotine pouches, and heated tobacco. By effectively balancing traditional tobacco control measures and promoting safer nicotine alternatives, Sweden has found a formula for success.
A closer look at Sweden’s approach reveals that they have meticulously addressed four key factors: accessibility, acceptability, gender sensitivities, and affordability.
Regarding accessibility, Sweden ensures ANPs are readily available across different retail channels. Additionally, recognizing the convenience of online shopping, many of these products can also be bought online, facilitating the switch for those who prefer to shop digitally.
Acceptability, the second factor, revolves around individual preferences. The Swedish market offers a diverse range of ANPs, each varying in flavor and nicotine level. This caters to consumers’ tastes and needs, making it easier to find a viable alternative to traditional cigarettes.
Sweden’s comprehensive approach also recognizes the necessity of gender-sensitive strategies in smoking cessation. A recent study revealed that women value social considerations more than men when switching to ANPs, and they place a greater emphasis on the flavor and nicotine level of the products. The same study highlighted that women in Sweden favor tobacco-free nicotine pouches over traditional snus. This preference could be attributed to various factors, including discreetness, utter lack of tobacco, or even flavor options. Consequently, offering gender-sensitive choices of ANPs, which align with these preferences, contributes significantly to the success of Sweden’s strategy.
Affordability is the fourth essential element of Sweden’s strategy. ANPs are priced competitively, taxed according to their lower risk, making it financially viable for smokers to switch.
Sweden’s holistic approach has resulted in impressive health outcomes, translating into the nation having the lowest rates of tobacco-related diseases in Europe. Swedish cancer death rates are 38 percent lower than the EU average, and cancer incidence rates are 41 percent lower.
The Swedish model, underscored by its impressive results, provides valuable lessons for the EU, WHO, and the world at large. The success story suggests that a smoke-free society can be attained more swiftly through a comprehensive approach. This involves embracing both traditional measures and innovative solutions, catering to individual preferences and gender sensitivities, ensuring affordability, and providing easy access to safer nicotine alternatives.
Pursuing a smoke-free society is not just a health target but a global commitment towards a healthier, brighter future. As we navigate our paths towards achieving this goal, drawing inspiration from Sweden’s journey can help us address the pressing public health challenge of smoking more effectively. We can accelerate our journey towards a smoke-free world by learning from Sweden’s comprehensive approach.
Federico N. Fernández is the CEO of We Are Innovation, a global network of 30+ think tanks and NGOs, He has authored numerous scholarly articles, and co-edited several books on economics.