A healthier tomorrow: the vital role of reduced-risk products


In the ever-evolving landscape of tobacco control, a significant shift is underway—one that prioritises health, innovation and the well-being of consumers. It’s a shift that promises a brighter, smoke-free future; and its foundation lies in the remarkable benefits of switching from combustible cigarettes to reduced-risk products (RRPs). The evidence is compelling, and it’s time we took notice.

Numerous reputable studies, including those conducted by the Royal College of Physicians, have illuminated a fundamental truth: the most harmful effects of smoking stem from inhaling toxicants during combustion when tobacco is ignited. In stark contrast, smokeless nicotine products eliminate this risk by sidestepping the harmful act of combustion, leading to significantly fewer adverse health effects.

Sweden serves as a shining example of the transformative potential of embracing smokeless nicotine products. The widespread use of these alternatives has yielded tangible benefits for the health of its population. With the lowest rate of tobacco-related diseases and deaths in the European Union (EU), Sweden’s success underscores the remarkable potential for harm reduction.

Let’s delve into the numbers, which tell a story of health and well-being. In Europe, Sweden boasts the lowest mortality rate among men for all cancers, as confirmed by the World Health Organization (WHO). In 2020, Swedish men recorded a mortality rate of 96 per 100,000 for all cancers—a testament to the profound impact of harm reduction.

The story becomes even more compelling when we examine lung cancer, one of the most devastating consequences of smoking. Sweden has the lowest lung cancer incidence in Europe, with 17.7 cases per 100,000 across both sexes. What’s more, the rate of deaths in Sweden from lung cancer stands at 29.11 per 100,000—less than half the EU average of 66.7 deaths per 100,000. These statistics alone paint a powerful picture of the life-saving potential of smokeless nicotine products.

When we widen our lens to encompass all tobacco-related diseases, the disparities become even more striking. In 2019, Swedish men had a remarkable 39.6 percent lower rate of death from these diseases compared to the EU average. With an incidence rate of 144.75 per 100,000, Sweden outperformed the EU average of 239.6 per 100,000, emerging as a leader in safeguarding public health.

Remarkably, these benefits are not limited to one demographic. Among men aged 50-69, where tobacco-related diseases often take a heavy toll, Sweden stands as a beacon of hope. Swedish men in this age group face a death rate of 141.1 per 100,000 – a stark contrast to the next lowest country, Ireland, with a rate of 194.68 per 100,000. These differences are a confirmation of Sweden’s enduring commitment to harm reduction, a commitment that has translated into lives saved and suffering prevented.

But Sweden’s story doesn’t end here; it’s also a story of a smoke-free generation in the making. With a smoking rate of only 3 percent among those aged 16-29 years, Sweden boasts the lowest level of youth smoking in Europe. This remarkable achievement underscores the profound impact of accessible and acceptable smokeless alternatives in shaping healthier habits from a young age.

Contrast this with countries like Germany and Italy, which have similar tobacco control measures in place but face youth smoking rates of 21.6 percent and 20 percent, respectively. The EU average youth smoking rate of 18 percent is nearly six times that of Sweden’s—a stark reminder of the transformative power of harm reduction.

Sweden’s journey is a testament to the profound health benefits that can be realised when a nation embraces Reduced Risk Products. It serves as a powerful reminder that we have the tools and knowledge to create a healthier, smoke-free world. It’s time we prioritised the well-being of our citizens, empower them with safer alternatives, and ensure that a brighter, healthier tomorrow is within reach for all.

The writer is a Harm Reduction Advocate at Harm Reduction Alliance, Ghana

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