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Sweden Just Became The World’s 1st Smoke-Free Country. Can Malaysia Do The Same?

Sweden Just Became The World’s 1st Smoke-Free Country. Can Malaysia Do The Same?

Sweden is well ahead of schedule in achieving the World Health Organization’s (WHO) target of reducing the prevalence of tobacco use among adults to less than 5% by 2025.

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Imagine living somewhere where almost nobody smokes cigarettes. Where you don’t have to worry about used cigarette butts littering the ground, secondhand smoke polluting the air or sick and suffocating people suffering in the hospitals.

Sounds too good to be true, right? Not for Sweden it’s not! In case you missed the recent news, the Scandinavian land of ABBA, IKEA, and social justice is on track to becoming the first “smoke-free” country in the world.

But what does that mean?

Sweden is well ahead of schedule in achieving the World Health Organization’s (WHO) target of reducing the prevalence of tobacco use among adults to less than 5% by 2025. A similar target was set by the European Union (EU), which wanted its member states to be smoke-free by 2040.

According to Sweden’s Public Health Agency, fewer people in the country smoke now than before.

“Between 2004 and 2021 daily smoking in Sweden decreased among the population aged 16–84 years. 6% of both men and women smoked daily in 2021.”

The Public Health Agency of Sweden.

In a span of just 15 years, Sweden managed to lower its smoking rates by more than half, from 15% in 2008 to 5.6% in 2022. This is quite a feat, considering that the average smoking rate in the EU is 23%, meaning that Sweden is years ahead of targets. It’s expected that the country will be smoke-free by the end of 2023.

(Credit: Smoke Free Sweden 2023 via YouTube)

In comparison, the smoking rate in Malaysia only fell from 25% in 2010 to 21% in 2020, and it’s estimated that about 5 million Malaysians smoke today.

A smoke-free society

(Credit: Kristaps Solims via Unsplash)

According to estimates, 8 million people die prematurely each year because of smoking-related diseases like lung disease, heart disease, stroke and cancer, and around 100 million people have died since the world started keeping track. Things are so bad that the WHO labels tobacco use as an epidemic and urges countries to implement immediate measures to put an end to it.

A report published by the Malaysian Health Ministry (KKM) estimated that around 20,000 people in the country die from smoking each year. The report also states that a large majority of Malaysian smokers are bitterly aware of the harmful effects that smoking cause and are planning to quit eventually.

Former KKM Minister Khairy Jamaludin once mentioned that one in 10 men and one in nine women in the country are at risk of getting cancer from smoking.

In comparison, with such a low smoking rate, Sweden is said to have the lowest tobacco mortality rate in the region. This means that fewer people perish from smoking-related illnesses.

But how did the Swedes do it? Did they just ban people from smoking or impose exorbitant taxes or fines, or criminalize smoking altogether?

No, they did it the Swedish way by implementing effective tobacco control measures like restricting marketing, enforcing smoke-free environments, and providing cessation support for smokers by letting them switch to alternative products that are less harmful than cigarettes.

How to quit like Sweden?

(Credit: teksomolika via Freepik)

Sweden’s smoke-free society is largely attributed to its implementation of tobacco harm reduction (THR) policies to reduce the risk associated with smoking cigarettes. This is done by providing smokers with alternatives like e-cigarettes and vapes, nicotine products like patches, and snus—a moist tobacco product that you put under your lips and has been a long tradition in Swedish culture.

This move towards embracing THR and making smoke-free alternatives more available and affordable has managed to convince many smokers in Sweden to switch and quit traditional cigarettes, and the results speak for themselves.

Sweden has also managed to influence a smoke-free generation where only around 3% of its youths smoke.

By making smoking alternatives widely available and affordable, and providing its people with support and proper regulations, Sweden has helped reduce harm to smokers and help them quit. And by doing so, improved its denizen’s health, happiness, and freedom.

But what about Malaysia? Can we become smoke-free too?

(Credit: Shafwan Zaidon via Malay Mail/ E-Liquids UK via Unsplash)

Well, we can if we want to! By adopting the right policies and making alternatives safe, available and affordable, Malaysia too can follow in Sweden’s footsteps.

The country’s recent move in introducing the Control of Tobacco Product and Smoking Bill 2022 and removing smoking alternatives like e-cigarettes and vape liquids containing nicotine from the Poisons Act 1952 sets the ground for moving Malaysia in the right direction by taxing and regulating nicotine-laced products like vapes with the aim of reducing the country’s smoking habits.

Taking quite extreme measures by banning vape, nicotine or cigarettes, is quite drastic and cannot be done by any country in the world. Many choose to smoke even despite the various campaigns done. While we are running a campaign about the negative effects of smoking, we also continue implementing this taxation measure just to prevent the substances from becoming widely available and cheap.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim via Bernama

Although we’re still far behind in terms of embracing THR strategies, with the willingness to change our mindsets and our policies, we too have the potential to make smoking a thing of the past. So let’s do it! Let’s together make Malaysia smoke-free.

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