Nicotine focus in new film - with Sweden in the lead role

The documentary "You don´t know nicotine" is about the colourful history and possible future of nicotine. Vejpkollen caught up with journalist Aaron Biebert, who in his search for answers ended up in Sweden - the promised land of snus.


Documentary filmmaker and journalist Aaron Biebert travelled around the world to uncover the truth about nicotine. Not an easy task. This is a drug surrounded by myths, misconceptions, emotions and politics. And by coincidence, Sweden is almost unique in the world when it comes to nicotine, says Aaron Biebert, who is currently working on his new documentary "You don´t know nicotine".

From activists to snusing Swedes

Aaron Biebert became known to vejpers and e-cigarette users five years ago. The film 'A Billion Lives' was about the e-cigarette, its origins, users and opponents. Interviews with passionate entrepreneurs driven into bankruptcy, activists who will stop at nothing to advance their cause, and public health scientists who shook their heads to financially driven politicians who do not see, or wish to see, the value of replacing smoking with healthier alternatives.

But in the background there was something other than money and propaganda from tobacco and pharmaceutical companies. Something Aaron Biebert wanted to capture in his new film: the fear of nicotine - the drug that affects billions of people worldwide - and a widespread lack of knowledge about it.

"In most countries, the research and debate on nicotine has always centred on cigarettes and the dangers of smoking. This has created an impossible climate of debate, where some people will never change their minds, no matter what the science says about nicotine itself," says Mr Bishop. Aaron Biebert to Vejpkollen.

An alternative for smokers

But he quickly noted that the discussion on nicotine in Sweden is significantly different from other parts of the world. This was something that started in the 60s and 70s, he says. Around the same time, the damage caused by smoking became increasingly apparent.

"Snus was on the market long before the health risks of cigarettes were recognised. This meant that there was a nicotine-containing alternative to smoking. A way out for those who wanted to quit cigarettes, but not the nicotine" says Aaron Biebert.

Nicotine is not just cigarettes

This affected both policy and research, says Aaron Biebert. And Sweden's unique position led to a debate that is still characterised by motives other than just the dangers of smoking. 

"The debate has enabled ordinary people to make wiser decisions about nicotine use. Accurate information about the alternatives has also led to fewer smokers," says Mr Perez. Aaron Biebert.

Nicotine is a sensitive substance

But the Swedish approach is quite unique. And "You don't know nicotine" is more of a rebuttal to the aggressive debate raging in countries where not only cigarettes, but also e-cigarettes and snus are seen as devastating to public health. Nicotine is a very sensitive topic.

"Political leaders and medical authorities struggle with both concern and confusion about nicotine. They know that it is present in cigarettes that is devastating to health. But they lack deeper knowledge and understanding. This is causing problems, especially as new methods of utilising nicotine emerge and grow in popularity."

Ignorance affects legislation

Banning less harmful alternatives to smoking"Nicotine products such as e-cigarettes and snus are now becoming more common," he says. And nicotine is seen as a threat to public health. Yet few decision-makers know what it is and how it affects the body. 

"We wanted to know more, and that's the basis of 'You don't know nicotine'. We are interviewing people who have been researching and working on this for decades. I think the film provides valuable insights and guidance for the tough decisions facing legislators. With so many new ways to use nicotine becoming established, doctors, legislators and journalists need to learn more," said Mr Perez. Aaron Biebert.

How did you experience your time in Sweden?

"It was a wonderful experience! We learnt a lot and met nice people. We also did a lot of interviews on the streets of Stockholm that are included in the film. And we had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing one of the world's most knowledgeable nicotine and snus researchers, Dr Karl Fagerström.

Committed to helping smokers

Aaron Bieberts previous film "A billion lives" was about smoking and vejping. About how e-cigarettes have emerged as a popular alternative to smoking and how ex-smokers are dedicating their lives to helping others quit. But it is also about how the tobacco industry has become an important source of income for several US states. And about the resistance to the technology, driven by groups that previously fought against the tobacco industry, with major support from pharmaceutical companies and money from smoking's large tax revenues.

"Since 'A Billion Lives' came out five years ago, I've become more and more committed to helping smokers live a better life," says Mr Bishop. Aaron Biebert. "But I regret that I didn't talk more with smokers then. And now we have. The insights it gave us became the basis for 'You don't know nicotine'. It's a very different film.

Who do you want to reach with the film?

"I think this film will appeal to a wider audience. We are addressing issues that affect over two billion people, including those who do not currently use nicotine. The film is a crowdfunding project. The idea from the beginning is to portray our knowledge journey. And to answers that we want to convey to the world." says Aaron Biebert.


Want to read more? You can find the full Vejpkollen interview with Aaron Biebert here.

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