Press Release – QUIT LIKE SWEDEN TO SAVE MILLIONS OF SMOKERS’ LIVES, EXPERTS URGE SA LAWMAKERS
Johannesburg 1 May 2023
LEADING international public health experts have urged South African lawmakers to follow
the pioneering example of ‘Smoke Free Sweden’ to save the lives of millions of smokers.
The experts convened a seminar in Johannesburg to report how Sweden is on course to drop
below a 5% tobacco smoking prevalence rate in the next few months. This is the level at which
a country is considered officially smoke-free.
No other member of the European Union is close to matching this achievement and none is
even on track to do so by the EU’s target of 2040, in 17 years’ time.
South Africa lags even further behind with a smoking rate approximately five times higher than
Sweden’s, the seminar on Friday was told.
“Sweden’s success story should be celebrated as a public health revolution,” said Dr Delon
Human, secretary-general of the African Harm Reduction Alliance (AHRA). “We should all be on
the mountaintop shouting ‘Victory!’, and looking at Sweden as the best-case practice.
“It’s all about saving lives and about the quality of life for smokers who’ve been unable to quit.
Harm reduction is their way out, it’s their fire escape.”
Sweden’s innovative strategy to minimise the harmful effects of tobacco smoking and save lives
is detailed in a new report entitled The Swedish Experience: A roadmap for a smoke-free
society , which was co-authored by Dr Human and presented at the seminar.
According to the report, Sweden’s approach, which combines tobacco control methods with
harm minimization strategies, could save 3.5 million lives in the next decade if other EU
countries adopt similar measures.
However, delegates heard that the tobacco control bill currently before Parliament in South
Africa could jeopardise hopes of the country becoming similarly smoke-free any time soon.
Dr Derek Yach, a global health consultant who was president and founder of the Foundation for
a Smoke-Free World, warned against proposals in the bill that would regulate harm-reduction
products, such as e-cigarettes and nicotine pouches, the same as combustible cigarettes.
“Standing back and going along with equalisation of the harm reduction category versus the
combustible category will set us back,” he said. “A review in a few years’ time will show that
we’ve actually forgone the opportunity to save many, many lives.
“But if we were able to accelerate action on harm reduction, we could prevent up to 500,000 tobacco-related deaths in South Africa before 2060.”
Combination of tobacco control with harm minimization
The Swedish model combines recommendations in the WHO Framework Convention for
Tobacco Control (FCTC), including reducing the supply and demand of tobacco and banning
smoking in certain places, but it adds an important element: accepting that smoke-free
products – such as vapes and oral pouches – are less harmful alternatives to traditional
“For adult smokers, switching to non-combustible alternatives is highly recommended,” said
AHRA president Dr Kgosi Letlape. “Where governments have allowed these alternatives into
their environment, the use of combustibles has come down and health benefits have been
“What should not be allowed is for people to continue lying that non-combustibles have no
health benefits for adult smokers.”
Public health benefits for individual and society
The benefits of Sweden’s strategy are remarkable. The country’s smoking rates just 15 years
ago were more than 150% higher than they are today. It now has the lowest percentage of
tobacco-related diseases in the EU and a 41% lower incidence of cancer than other European
“We need to be spreading the truths that are evident from these statistics,” said Dr Anders
Milton, who also authored the report.
“Some people do need the kick that nicotine gives. Harm reduction products are giving that
without the danger to their health.”
About the report
The report was commissioned by Health Diplomats, an international organization working to
improve access to healthcare and encourage innovation and the use of harm reduction to
minimize the negative impact of alcohol, food, nicotine and drugs.
The full report is available here .
Some of the report’s conclusions and suggestions for implementation in other countries.
1: Recognize smoke-free products as significantly less harmful than smoking. Encourage
smokers to switch from cigarettes to less harmful alternatives.
2: Provide fact-based information. It is clear that there are no risk-free tobacco products. But,
for example, e-cigarettes are 95% less harmful than cigarettes. Of course, it is better for a
smoker to switch from regular cigarettes to e-cigarettes, although it is not without risk.
3: Develop policies that make smoke-free alternatives more accessible than cigarettes. For
example, differentiated taxes that give smokers financial incentives to switch from cigarettes to
less harmful alternatives.
About the report’s authors:
Dr Anders Milton, formerly chairman of the Swedish Medical Association, the Swedish Red
Cross and the World Medical Association.
Dr Delon Human, physician specializing in global public health issues. Former advisor on public
health issues to, among others, three WHO directors-general and the UN Secretary-General.
Prof Karl Fagerström, docent and internationally recognized expert in addiction research and