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Smoke-free Sweden

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00:00 CEST+02:00
In case you missed it, Monday 31 May was No Smoking Day, a global event to encourage smokers to kick the habit. Although Sweden has the fewest smokers in the world per capita (17%), health officials are still keen to see the figure fall even lower.

"A good tax hike on tobacco would definitely get the numbers down, but it should still be possible even without resorting to such measures," Anna Östbom of the Public Health Institute told Monday's DN.

She said that it's impossible to say whether smoking can be completely eradicated in the future, as there are so many factors involved. Perhaps the most important is social acceptance.

"One of the biggest reasons for the reduction we've seen is that smoking is no longer socially acceptable in many societies and groups," said Östbom.

This year's theme has been the link between smoking and poverty. This is a link that doesn't just exist in the Third World, but in countries like Sweden, too. The typical Swedish smoker is a single woman with only a basic education. The largest group of male smokers is those who have taken early retirement.

A new weapon in the war against tobacco could be an anti-smoking vaccine, according to a recent report in SvD. Researchers at the Swedish drug company, Pharmaceutica, are set to start testing on around 40 volunteers in the Autumn.

The vaccine prevents the nicotine from reaching the brain, thus denying the smoker the reward of a kick. It's this that makes smoking attractive and is the main reason for smokers failing in their attempts to quit. The new treatment is principally targeted at this group of failed quitters.

"By making smoking unattractive, you avoid relapse," explained Pharmaceutica's chief executive, Lena Degling Wikingsson.

Experiments on rats have been successful, and one of the main purposes of the new studies on humans is to ascertain the correct dose. The Swedish team faces competition from rivals in both the United Kingdom and the USA, but Degling Wikingsson is confident that her product has the most potential.

"The animal trials showed that our antibodies are more specific. That means the effect is more lasting," she said.

The demand for a vaccine is great, as nicotine replacement therapy is only effective for about a third of smokers. If the new vaccine works, there's also a possibility that it could be used as a preventative measure. It could be given to teenagers, for example, to make smoking less attractive to begin with.

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