Sweden moves to ban smoking in public places

The Swedish government wants to ban smoking at outdoor restaurants, train platforms, playgrounds and other public places.

Sweden moves to ban smoking in public places
File photo of a smoker. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Health Minister Annika Strandhäll announced the centre-left coalition government's new legislative proposal to stub out smoking in certain public places at a press conference at Stockholm Central Station on Friday.

“We need to de-normalize the use of tobacco in the public space,” Strandhäll told reporters.

“I think it is reasonable that you should not have to be exposed to tobacco smoke in these kinds of places, such as platforms. Ninety percent of the population do not smoke,” she said.

The government is expected to put a formal proposal to parliament in February, reports news agency TT.

Strandhäll said it would include a proposal to introduce rules stating that Sweden's moist powder tobacco 'snus' may only be sold in packs of at least 20 portions to discourage non-users from buying the product.

INTERVIEWS: Stockholmers react to proposed smoking ban

Health Minister Annika Strandhäll presenting the proposal on Friday. Photo: Sören Andersson/TT

The bid follows a lengthy government inquiry, released in 2016 but commissioned by the previous centre-right government in 2014, which suggested limiting the number of areas in which people are allowed to smoke. 

separate report from Sweden's Public Health Agency in 2014 pointed to evidence suggesting that passive smoking is responsible for up to ten cases of lung cancer in the country each year as well as around 400 cases of cardiovascular disease.

Repeated polls have indicated that most Swedes back the idea of an extended smoking ban, with young people especially in favour of the plan.

However critics argue that a more extensive ban on smoking is a step too far in a country which already prohibits lighting up inside a wide range of places including bars, restaurants and shopping centres.

The Local took to the streets of Stockholm on Friday to find out what people thought. Read their comments here.

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Monkeypox in Sweden: what causes it, and is it serious?

Sweden reported its first case of the monkeypox virus on May 20th. What causes the virus, and should we be worried?

Monkeypox in Sweden: what causes it, and is it serious?

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox, apkoppor in Swedish, is a zoonotic virus (a virus spread from animals to humans) which most often occurs in areas of tropical rainforest in Central and West Africa. It is occasionally found in other regions, and cases have recently been discovered in Europe, North America and Australia.

What causes it?

Monkeypox is spread via close contact with an animal or human with the monkeypox virus. It can be transmitted via bodily fluids, lesions, respiratory droplets or through contaminated materials, such as bedding.

Recent cases of the virus in Europe are thought to have been spread through sexual activity, Klara Sondén, infectious disease physician at the Public Health Agency told newspaper Aftonbladet.

“That’s a hypothesis at the moment and it’s new compared to how the disease has spread previously,” Sondén told the newspaper.

“The classic symptoms are skin lesions which cover the body. In the European cases, the problem has been localised to the genitals. Many of those with suspected infections have also reported that they recently had sexual contact with a new partner,” she explained to Aftonbladet.

This 2003 electron microscope image made available by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows mature, oval-shaped monkeypox virions. Photo: Cynthia S. Goldsmith, Russell Regner/CDC/AP

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of monkeypox include a fever, headache, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes, chills and exhaustion. A rash  similar to chickenpox typically develops, often starting on the face and spreading to other parts of the body, including the genitals.

Monkeypox typically has an incubation period of six to 16 days, but it can be as long as 21 days. Once lesions have scabbed over and fallen off, the person with the virus is no longer infectious.

However, Sondén explained to Aftonbladet that the incubation period for this new sort of monkeypox could be different.

“We’re unsure of the incubation period. Usually, the incubation period is one or two weeks, but now we don’t know for sure how long it is.”

Why is it in the news now?

Although cases of monkeypox have been reported outside of affected areas of Central and West Africa previously, the virus is making headlines now as this is the first time cases have been identified in someone with no recent history of travel to affected areas and no history of contact with previous imported cases.

So far, seven cases have been reported in the UK, five confirmed cases and more than 20 suspected cases in Portugal, 23 suspected cases in Spain and 13 suspected cases in Canada.

New cases have been reported in recent days in France, Italy and Australia, as well as Sweden’s first case, reported on May 19th.

Is it dangerous?

The type of monkeypox seen in affected areas of Central and West Africa can be serious and, occasionally, deadly. However, it appears that the cases detected so far in Europe have been relatively mild.

“We don’t know of any case in Europe where the affected individual has been seriously or critically ill,” Sondén told Aftonbladet.

The Public Health Agency has asked the government to classify monkeypox as an allmänfarlig sjukdom or an illness presenting a risk to society. This may seem serious, but the Agency says that this is so they can access tools to track and contain the disease such as contact tracing, which is governed by infection control laws.

“There’s nothing you need to think about in your daily life or at work,” Sondén told Aftonbladet. “We’re announcing this because we want to raise awareness of the sexual aspect. If you, for example, start showing symptoms after you’ve recently had sex with a new partner.”

There is no vaccine for monkeypox approved in Europe, but vaccines for smallpox are effective against the virus, as the two viruses are members of the same family.