Thursday, December 3, 2009
European Experts Continue to Ignore the Swedish Miracle
A new study by cancer epidemiologists clearly provides evidence that snus use among men in Sweden is responsible for the lowest cancer death rate on the European continent. Surprisingly, the authors avoid drawing this obvious conclusion in both their article and their press release.
The study examined cancer mortality trends in 34 European countries over the period 1975-2004. It found that cancer deaths among men throughout Europe declined, mainly due to a drop in “lung and other tobacco-related cancers,” according to co-author Cristina Bosetti. The study shows that men in Sweden have the lowest death rates for lung cancer (less than 50% of the European Union rate) and for all cancers, while rates for Swedish women are at or above EU averages.
These findings are fully consistent with my recently published study of European lung cancer, which I discussed in a recent blog post.
The authors of the new study recognize that differences in cancer death rates among European countries reflect differences in smoking; they conclude that “further reduction of tobacco smoking remains the key priority for cancer control in Europe.” That’s perfectly true. But why did the authors ignore the only legitimate explanation of low cancer rates for Swedish men: the miracle of tobacco harm reduction?
It is important to point out that the difference in cancer rates between Swedish men and the rest of Europe is not a new finding. The first author of the current study, Carlo La Vecchia, is a prolific epidemiologist who previously published a study of cancer in Europe during the period 1955-1989. That study clearly shows that Swedish men have always had the lowest lung cancer rates on the continent.
When that study was published in 1992, there was little appreciation, either in Sweden or elsewhere, of the effect of snus use on smoking. But now there is a wealth of scientific literature on the Swedish miracle. When epidemiologists, tobacco researchers, policy experts and government regulators purposefully avoid talking about tobacco harm reduction, they put their reputations in jeopardy, to speak nothing of the lives of millions of smokers.