Restrict marketing - but not flavourings. Introduce harm minimisation in tobacco and nicotine policies. And give consumers the opportunity to make informed decisions about the risk of harm. This was the opinion of three of Sweden's political youth organisations in a discussion on new nicotine products.
The seminar "A smoke-free Sweden - What happens next?" was organised by Philip Morris and focused on the future of e-cigarettes, snus and nicotine pouches as substitutes for cigarettes in Sweden. The concept of tobacco harm reduction was central to the discussion, not least in light of the fact that Philip Morris has recently expressed an interest in a willingness to stop selling smoking tobacco and instead focus on smoke-free products.
"We have the technology today to make it happen. But politicians can accelerate the development and we want them to talk about the possibilities that exist today." says Claude Guiron, Nordic Science Director Philip Morris AB
"Politicians have the opportunity to steer development"
Harm reduction as a method to reduce the harm from smoking and smoking cessation. official strategy in the UK. E-cigarettes (but also snus and other smokeless nicotine products) are, according to the UK Department of Health, at least 95 per cent less harmful than cigarette smoking. Smokers urged to switch from smoking to vaping in regular information campaigns.
Ulrika Karlsson (m) Member of Parliament and advisor on health issues at the UN, says that politicians are well placed to steer development towards less harmful nicotine use.
"It is a tantalising thought that cigarettes would disappear from the market. It's hard to know if it's possible. But in general, we should focus on limiting the products that are known to be harmful and at the same time be more permissive towards less harmful alternatives," she said. during the seminar.
Must come from below
The youth organisation of the Sweden Democrats, Ungsvenskarna, also believes that policy should be clear about the risk of harm from various nicotine products. But also that any change must start with the consumers and not least the industry.
"I think it is important that this kind of change comes from below. And that it comes from the consumers concerned and not from politicians. This is not to say that politics plays a major role. We have different tools to control, including different tax levels. In Sweden, we currently see general tax increases for all tobacco products instead. This was something that both the Social Democrats and the Moderates voted against earlier this autumn," he says. Tobias Andersson, spokesperson for the Young Swedes
Promoting the phasing out of cigarettes
Réka Tolnai, chair of the Centre Party's youth association, CUF, took the same line. She also said that politicians have a responsibility to spread information and knowledge about harm reduction.
"We can see that the industry wants to phase out cigarettes, and it is the task of politicians to promote this and not try to control it. I would say that the generally negative attitude towards tobacco is counterproductive and does not promote development. If we recognise that consumers prefer a healthier product, like snus, nicotine pouches or e-cigarettes, why should we put up barriers to that?" says Réka Tolnai.
Young people replace cigarettes with other products
Erik Engstrand, The First Vice President of the Moderate Youth Union (MUF) also emphasised the importance of different levels of taxation, based on harm risk, for nicotine products. But he also noted that smoking and harm reduction is not a hot topic in politics. According to him, harm reduction is already a fact in Sweden, especially among young people.
"I feel like smoking is going away in our generation. We have embraced snus instead, or other alternatives such as e-cigarettes. So I would say that drugs are a bigger issue, and harm minimisation in drug policy is the biggest challenge in the near future." says Erik Engstrand.
Calls for research-based policies
The Swedish Parliament voted earlier this year no to the government's proposal for a new ANDT strategy. One of the reasons was that the government chose not to differentiate between smoking tobacco and smokeless nicotine products. The Parliament therefore asked the government to set up an investigation to compare the risk of harm between the products and then propose a new framework to counteract the harm of smoking in Sweden.
"We should have a research-based policy and look at what really works from a harm minimisation perspective. We need to know what is harm reduction and what is counterproductive. It's about rethinking old truths that just say: 'if it's harmful to health, we should ban it'," says Mr Perez. Réka Tolnai.
Questioning marketing - not flavours
The government has also made a proposal for a comprehensive flavour ban for e-cigarettes and e-liquid. The government argues that attractive flavours attract non-smokers to use e-cigarettes. But according to Réka Tolnai the issue is more complicated. Attractive flavours are not necessarily negative, she says.
"It is important to keep these products attractive. Because then it is easier for smokers to switch over. Then there is a point in questioning the marketing. These new products have managed to appear "fresh", of course. But instead of talking about bans, we should focus on education and information. What are the harmful effects of nicotine and what should you know before using them? But I think it's very important to make sure that these new products are still available, precisely because the possibility for smokers to switch" says Mr Perez. Réka Tolnai.