Friday, April 11, 2014

Swedish Tax Proposal Threatens Successful Tobacco Harm Reduction

Sweden, which represents the world’s best example of the population effect of tobacco harm reduction, is considering increasing its snus tax by 22%, according to the Swedish national newspaper Aftonbladet.  An April 2 article claims “it would be the first time ever that a can of snus would cost more than a pack of cigarettes.”  Swedes are reportedly outraged by the proposal.  Public health experts should be outraged as well, given such a tax hike’s threat to the developed world’s lowest smoking and lung cancer rates.

As expected, the Karolinska Institute’s tobacco expert Hans Giljam expressed support for a higher snus tax.  However, even he admitted, “There is a risk that many will quit snus and move to cigarettes.  And if many start smoking instead of using snus, we will get sicker. That is a certainty.”

That is unquestionably the strangest endorsement of tobacco harm reduction ever heard.  Giljam couched his comment in dire, unfounded or exaggerated warnings about links between snus and a host of diseases, but he waffled on how much snus use triggers health effects.  “It takes decades of study to reach such conclusions.  It is one of the pedagogic problems we face; we don’t really know what the health effects of long-term snus usage are.”

In fact, decades of study have defined the long-term health effects snus use – nearly zero.  And even Giljam acknowledges that smoking is at least ten times more dangerous than using snus.  His support for equalizing taxes on snus and cigarettes is unfathomable.

This article is available only in Swedish (here), so the English translation I have could account for Giljam’s bizarre logic.  But I sincerely doubt it.  Like anti-tobacco extremists everywhere, those in Sweden not only completely ignore the phenomenal Swedish tobacco experience, they enthusiastically endorse policies that would destroy it. 

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