Margaritis Schinas

‘EU cancer plan should take inspiration from Sweden’

The new EU cancer plan still equates cigarettes with snus and other smokeless tobacco products — despite scientific evidence to the contrary —  meaning its €4bn budget risks being misspent, snus manufacturers in Sweden have warned. 

“The EU cancer plan should take more inspiration from Sweden,” says Patrik Strömer, Secretary General of the Association of Swedish Snus Manufacturers. 

As many as 2.7 million people in the EU were diagnosed with cancer last year, with the disease claiming 1.3 million lives. The EU is now investing heavily in reducing  the number of deaths as part of its ‘European Health Union’ package. 

The EU’s Beating Cancer Plan focuses on four main areas:

  • A smoke- and snus-free generation, with the aim to ensure that less than 5 percent of the population uses tobacco by 2040.
  • Reducing harmful alcohol consumption in line with the UN’s sustainable development goals (relative reduction by at least 10 percent of harmful alcohol consumption by 2025) and reducing young people’s exposure to alcohol advertising.
  • Reducing environmental pollution by adapting EU air quality standards to the World Health Organization’s guidelines and reducing exposure to carcinogens and radiation.
  • Increased knowledge and health competence to promote a healthier lifestyle.

“It is about health but beyond health policy. A whole-of-society effort. In a strong European Health Union, cancer becomes a shared political, operational and scientific priority,” said Margaritis Schinas, Vice-President of the European Commission. 

EU ignores evidence of reduced harm

But when it comes to part of the plan covering tobacco products, the EU does not differentiate between the harm caused by different tobacco products, ignoring a large body of evidence. 

While it is scientifically proven that cigarette smoking greatly increases the risk of lung cancer, research shows that snus use does not lead to an increased risk of the disease.

Sweden, the only country in the EU where snus is allowed, is also the country with the lowest incidence of lung cancer and other smoking-related cancers in the EU.

Other countries outside of the EU, such as the United Kingdom, have begun to consider informing smokers about less harmful tobacco products, such as snus, as a way of reducing smoking-related deaths. 

But this so-called harm reduction principle is not reflected in the EU’s new strategy to prevent cancer.

Snus boss: ‘Learn from Sweden’

Strömer, believes the EU’s plan has major shortcomings regarding tobacco use.

“If the country where snus is allowed shows by far the best figures for the risk of developing cancer, then the strategy should at least consider learning from the best country in the EU,” he says. 

“It’s extremely serious that 100 million smokers in the EU do not have the opportunity to use products that don’t cause cancer. Science and facts should win the day, not moralism or ideologically-based wishful thinking.” 

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