Sweden’s smoke-free success defies WHO statements on e-cigarettes, say experts

Stockholm, Sunday June 4, 2023 – Advocates for tobacco harm reduction have expressed “deep disappointment and alarm” over comments made about e-cigarettes by the World Health Organization (WHO) director general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“Against the background, that harm reduction strategies are fully accepted as part of tobacco control, in the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the WHO’s dismissal of e-cigarettes as a harm reduction tool is a setback for public health. This could jeopardise the future of millions of adult smokers who use alternative nicotine products to help them quit far more harmful cigarettes,” said Dr. Delon Human, who is leader of the Smoke Free Sweden initiative.

“For people who smoke, accurate public health messaging is critically important, especially by the WHO Director-General. Combustible cigarettes are uniquely deadly and quitting is difficult. Evidence shows nicotine vaping products (e-cigarettes) can help people quit smoking and are considerably less harmful than smoking. In addition, it is contradictory for WHO to recommend the use of medicinal nicotine products, while at the same time advocating de facto prohibition of consumer nicotine products.”

“Dr. Ghebreyesus also seems to ignore the remarkable feat of Sweden, which is about to become the first country in the developed world to achieve smoke-free status.

“Sweden’s remarkable success story in tobacco control is largely due to its harm reduction strategies, which allow adult smokers access to affordable harm reduced products, such as e-cigarettes and oral nicotine pouches.

“Sweden now boasts the lowest incidence of smoking-related diseases and the fewest premature deaths due to tobacco-related causes in Europe. That’s in no small part a result of the accessibility, availability and affordability of safer alternatives to cigarettes, such as e-cigarettes, in Sweden.”

Dr. Human, a former adviser to two WHO Directors-General and to the UN Secretary-General on global public health strategies added: “It is deeply disappointing and alarming that WHO appears to reject tobacco harm reduction when it practises similar strategies to address other problems like drug addictions.

“The WHO’s latest focus on attacking tobacco farmers and Turkmenistan’s efforts in reducing smoking, seem to be deflecting recognition from success stories hiding in plain sight.  For example, Sweden’s extraordinary achievement in becoming smoke-free offers a far more compelling and impactful blueprint for the world.

“We urge the WHO and other global health organisations to consider the evidence and conduct in-depth country case studies on public health success stories, such as Sweden. When formulating WHO policies, the goal should always be to reduce harm and save lives, and we believe that dismissing potential harm reduction strategies out of hand does a disservice to that mission.”

About Smoke Free Sweden

Smoke Free Sweden is a campaign which encourages other countries to follow the Swedish model when it comes to Tobacco Harm Reduction. Sweden is about to become the first ‘smoke-free’ European country in 2023, with a smoking rate of below 5 percent. This is a huge achievement, and will be 17 years ahead of the 2040 EU target. This can be attributed to Sweden’s open attitude towards alternative products.

For more information on Sweden’s successful approach to becoming a smoke-free nation, please visit www.smokefreesweden.org.


Smoke Free Sweden