The charity, called Omsorgsjul – Hemlösa (Care Christmas – the Homeless) has organized traditional Christmas smorgasbords in Norrköping for the past 17 years.
At this year’s Christmas party, the charity handed out gifts like hats, warm clothes and boxes of chocolate to the homeless and other vulnerable people who attended the festivities. The guests also received a pack of cigarettes each.
“There would be an outcry if they didn’t receive their cigarettes,” Lennart Cederberg, head of the charity, told the local Folkbladet newspaper.
“It has become a tradition and, moreover, many of them are sick and they must have this,” Cederberg said, adding that the 150 packs handed out this year were light cigarettes.
Lena Sjöberg, president of Dentistry Against Tobacco (Tandvård mot tobak) said handing out cigarettes “sends the wrong signal”.
“I think it is in the human interest to try to inspire people to take up more healthy habits, and giving cigarettes as Christmas presents is not the right way forward,” said Sjöberg.
“Only the tobacco industry needs tobacco. Besides, the government has decided that we should try and reduce tobacco use among those who smoke the most, including the homeless.”
Asked if he thinks handing out cigarettes sends “the wrong signal”, Cederberg replied: “These people are our friends whom we care about and in this context the cigarettes aren’t that dangerous. They smoke all the time anyway.”
“They have smoked for a long time. We can’t take that away from them. The most important thing is that we don’t hand out alcohol and money.”
He said the recipients keep calm by smoking and that those who complain about the unorthodox Christmas gift should instead focus on the real problem, which is homelessness.
“Come and help them and make sure they receive accommodation instead of whining,” Cederberg urged.
“Some of these people have to go into communal garbage rooms to smoke. The cigarettes help them stay awake and keep them from freezing to death.”
None of the charity’s donors have complained about the cigarette gifts. If they do, said Cederberg, the charity would have to rethink its policy.
“Otherwise we will continue handing out cigarettes at the Christmas party,” he stated.
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