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EU borde titta på hur Sverige uppnådde den lägsta rökningen i Europa 

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At the end of November, there has been some commotion around leaked documents related to the EU’s Tobacco Tax Directive (TED), in which the European Commission not only sets out its preliminary plans for a tax increase on tobacco but also wants to introduce a common European tax on alternative, less risky products, such as vaping devices and heated tobacco products. Rumours of such a proposal have been circulating for some time.

Financial Times, som hade lyckats lägga vantarna på ett utkast till förslag från EG, meddelade nyheten i slutet av november. Efter denna nyhet dök det också snabbt upp rykten om att både orala nikotinprodukter, de tobaksfria nikotinpåsarna och snus, som är förbjudna i EU, men mycket populära i Sverige, också skulle påverkas av den nya skatten, nästan fördubblas deras pris.

I Sverige är denna sista punkt mycket känslig av flera anledningar. Landet har trots allt varit tack vare att snus fört en framgångsrik kamp mot cigaretter i flera år. Som en följd av detta meddelade Folkhälsomyndigheten att 2022 minskade antalet rökare med en extra poäng till 5.6 procent av befolkningen. Som sådan är den svenska rökprevalensen på 5,6 % en fjärdedel av EU-genomsnittet på 23 % och är den lägsta i EU och en av de lägsta i världen.

This puts Stockholm on the podium of the countries with greater smoking declines, ahead of the EU and the world. As a result, the country is well ahead of the European Cancer Plan’s goal of a “smoke-free generation” by 2040, which aims to reduce the number of smokers in Europe to 5 per cent of the population.

Sverige är det enda europeiska landet som klarar detta mål långt före 2040. Samtidigt är rökning fortfarande den ledande riskfaktorn för för tidig död på kontinenten. En av fem dödsfall beror på rökning.

While Brussels continues to pursue a rigid policy that not only tackles traditional tobacco products but – driven by a solid anti-tobacco lobby –seeks to place under the same provisions applied to cigarettes the novel products, such as e-cigarettes,  heated tobacco, pouches and snus. These products, according to industry and some public health authorities in the US, Germany, Belgium, France, or The Netherlands because they lack combustion and smoke, are considered to be less harmful for smokers.

Den svenska modellen står i skarp kontrast till EU-kommissionens politik och konservativa förhållningssätt, och med Världshälsoorganisationens (WHO) underorgan för tobakskontroll som efter mer än ett decennium av obrännbart material som kommit ut på marknaderna fortfarande vägrar acceptera skademinskning åtgärder, andra än upphörande, som säger att nya produkter väntar på en rigorös oberoende vetenskaplig utvärdering som WHO hävdar inte är tillgänglig och som WHO inte kommer att genomföra. Denna inställning återspeglas på europeisk nivå, trots betydande ansträngningar från Europaparlamentet för att inkludera utvärdering av de vetenskapliga bevisen bakom riskminskningen av de nya produkterna i den europeiska cancerkontrollplanen.

Annons

The leaked EU tax proposal puts pressure on the Swedish model to curb smoking, as Sweden prepares to take over the Presidency in January 2023. The Commission’s blindness to the success of the Swedish Snusin bringing down the country’s smoking rates to record low levels, together with the ban of snus in the rest of the EU, restricting access of a product that Swedes are proud of, helps  explaining the fierce Swedish politicians’ reactions to the Commission’s alleged plans to introduce a European tax on snus that could almost double the price and the fear that Sweden could be the next target of the highly profitable trade that organized crime has in Europe of nicotine products.

Debate in Brussels on this topic will be according to our sources, on if the TED proposal will allow the Commission to quietly revamp their hardly efficient tobacco control measures in comparison to the harm reduction inclusive tobacco control ones of Sweden. Talk is that the Commission would not recognise that the EU ban on snus was a public health mistake, placing the over 90 million European smokers that despite all the taxes and restrictions continue to smoke at greater risk than they need to be. However, this will not be a foregone conclusion, as the country pursues a lonely anti-smoking policy, which, despite its spectacular results, deviates sharply from the EU’s orthodox policy. As a result, further diversion through taxes and excise duties are expected mainly – and mostly in vain – not only on cigarettes but also on novel reduced-risk smokeless products. 

In the end, the European Union is mainly looking at the revenue it plans to generate – more than €9 billion extra revenue from a European tax increase on tobacco – rather than public health gains for smokers. This is unfortunate for European citizens and the predetermined policy goals within the European Union. Swedish EU commissioner Ylva Johansson revealed last week in Swedish media that the new proposals to tax snus more heavily would harm Sweden and provide further incentives for the illegal tobacco trade, thus as we have witnessed in countries like France, where according to the latest  KPMG report on the growing size and cost of illicit tobacco consumption in Europe, the loss to the French state alone averages around €6 billion a year, and the illicit cigarettes share of the tobacco market went up 3 times to nearly 40%. France, due to the high excise rates, remains the biggest market for illicit cigarettes in the EU with a total of more than 15 billion illicit cigarettes consumed in 2021, leading to close to 30% of the total cigarettes consumption in the EU, growing drastically from 13% in 2017.

Will the European Commission’s pride stand in the way of protecting smokers who have failed to quit, and will it harm states’ revenues in a time of looming recession?

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