Sweden is on the verge of declaring itself Europe’s first “smoke-free” country – defined as a country where less than 5 percent of the population that smokes daily lives.
Some experts say Sweden’s smoking rate — the lowest in the European Union — is due to decades of anti-smoking campaigns and laws, while others point to the proliferation of “snus,” a smokeless tobacco product that’s banned elsewhere in the EU, but is marketed in Sweden as an alternative to cigarettes.
The 5 percent milestone is now within reach as statistics from the Swedish Health Agency show that the daily smoking rate reached 5.6 percent last year.
By comparison, 13.3 per cent of UK adults smoke cigarettes, equivalent to about 6.6 million people, according to the latest government figures from 2021.
Meanwhile, just 6.4 percent of Swedes over the age of 15 were daily smokers in 2019, the lowest figure in the EU and far below the average of 18.5 percent across the 27-country bloc, according to statistics agency Eurostat.
On a terrace overlooking Stockholm, people enjoy drinks and snacks in the evening sun on Tuesday. In Sweden, the country with the lowest smoking rate in the European Union, smoking is banned both indoors and outdoors in bars and restaurants
Sweden, which has the lowest smoking rate in Europe, is now on the verge of declaring itself smoke-free. Some experts credit decades of anti-smoking campaigns and laws, while others point to the proliferation of ‘snus’ (pictured), a smokeless tobacco product illegal elsewhere in the European Union but marketed in Sweden as an alternative to cigarettes
Figures from the Swedish Public Health Agency show that the smoking rate has continued to fall since then, reaching 5.6 percent last year.
Carina Astorsson, a Stockholm resident, said: “We like a healthy lifestyle, I think that’s why.”
She has never been interested in smoking, she added, because “I don’t like the smell; I want to take care of my body.
The risks of smoking appear to be well understood among health-conscious Swedes, including younger generations.
Twenty years ago, almost 20 percent of the population were smokers – a low rate worldwide at the time. Since then, smoking cessation policies have reduced smoking rates across Europe, including smoking bans in restaurants.
France saw a record-breaking fall in smoking rates from 2014 to 2019, but that success plateaued at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic – partly responsible for creating the stress that made people glow.
About a third of people aged 18 to 75 in France reported smoking in 2021 – a slight increase from 2019. About a quarter smoke daily.
Sweden has gone further than most countries in phasing out cigarettes and says it has resulted in a range of health benefits, including a relatively low rate of lung cancer.
Ulrika Arehed, Secretary General of the Swedish Cancer Society, said: “We restricted smoking in public spaces early on, first in schoolyards and after-school clubs, later in restaurants, street cafes and public places such as bus stops.”
“In parallel, taxes on cigarettes and severe restrictions on the marketing of these products have played an important role.”
A man holds a box of snuff at a shop in Stockholm, Sweden (file image)
She added that “Sweden is not there yet,” noting that the proportion of smokers is higher in disadvantaged socio-economic groups.
The sight of glowing people is becoming increasingly rare in the country of 10.5 million people. Smoking is prohibited at bus stops and train platforms, as well as in front of the entrances to hospitals and other public buildings.
As in most parts of Europe, smoking is not permitted in bars and restaurants, but since 2019 Sweden has also banned smoking outside.
Swedish snus manufacturers have long believed their product to be a less harmful alternative to smoking, acknowledging the country’s declining smoking rates. But Swedish health authorities are reluctant to advise smokers to switch to snus, another highly addictive nicotine product.
Some studies have linked snus to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and premature birth when taken during pregnancy.
The World Health Organization (WHO) attributes the drop in smoking rates in Sweden to a combination of tobacco control measures, including information campaigns, advertising bans and “smoking cessation support” for those who want to quit smoking.
However, the agency found that in Sweden more than 20% of the adult population uses tobacco, which is in line with the global average when snus and similar products are included.
“Switching from one harmful product to another is not a solution,” WHO said. “The promotion of a so-called ‘harm reduction approach’ to smoking is yet another attempt by the tobacco industry to mislead people about the inherent dangers of these products.”