The World Health Organization should look at Sweden for inspiration when deciding how to effectively reduce smoking-related deaths, according to the Institute for Tobacco Studies (ITS).
In a paper published on Qeios, ITS’ principal investigator, Lars M. Ramstroem, says Sweden provides a prime example of how products that don’t burn tobacco can benefit public health. Sweden has the lowest smoking prevalence among men in the European Union and consequently the lowest tobacco-related mortality.
The “WHO needs to apply all science-based strategies to reduce tobacco-related deaths,” Ramstroem said in a statement.
“The meeting of the world’s health leaders in Panama in November, the COP10, represents a unique opportunity to take a fresh look at the most recent evidence with an open mind. After all, if Sweden had followed WHO’s advice from 20 years ago and banned snus, tobacco-related deaths in Sweden would have been much higher, and the only unintended beneficiary profiting from such advice would be the cigarette industry,” Ramstroem and his colleagues write in the paper.
“[I]ncreasing number[s] of scientists and national governments believe that these new products represent an opportunity that can accelerate the demise of smoking. Because they don’t burn tobacco, they are estimated to be far less harmful than smoking. To the extent that they can act as a substitute and displace smoking, thereby improving public health.”
Ramstroem said most “tobacco-related” deaths are in fact “smoking-related” deaths caused by repeated inhalation of smoke emitted when tobacco is lit on fire.
“When burning is taken out of the equation, the harm can be dramatically reduced. We have known for decades that people smoke for nicotine but die from the tar,” the paper says.
In addition to citing the experience of Sweden, the paper urges policymakers to study the examples of Norway, Japan or New Zealand. “Norway is now following a similar trajectory as Sweden, with daily smoking being at record-low levels and virtually on the brink of extinction among some population groups, largely due to snus,” the paper’s authors wrote.
In Japan, a large number of smokers have switched to heated-tobacco products, contributing to a decline in smoking from around 20 percent in 2014 to 13 percent in 2019, while in New Zealand, vaping helped reduce daily smoking to 8 percent and contributed to rapid fall in smoking rates even among Pacific and Maori populations where traditional interventions have been failing.
The paper also calls on the delegates to the COP10 to look at the real-world scientific evidence in making decisions during the meeting.
“When it comes to smoking, the WHO doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel: Just follow the science (and Sweden) this time, for the sake of 1 billion smokers who aren’t lucky enough to live in Sweden,” the paper says.