Swedish Think Tank Tobaksfakta made a study 2020 on youth politicians’ views on tobacco and nicotine. Representatives from youth associations of parties represented in the parliament were interviewed. Questions concerning tobacco policy, attitudes to tobacco, own nicotine use and contacts with the tobacco industry were asked.  

In the report, leading representatives from seven out of eight political youth associations have been interviewed. Their opinions and ambitions concerning tobacco control have been investigated. The interviews give an insight into the tobacco policy of the future, as several of today’s young politicians will probably become future members of parliament and ministers. Below is a summary of the report.

The interviews showed that there is a clear political dividing line between the three red-green youth unions on one side; Ung Vänster (Young Left), SSU  (Social Democratic Youth League), and Grön Ungdom (Young Greens) and the conservative and Sweden Democratic youth unions on the other side: LUF (Liberal Youth of Sweden), MUF (The Moderate Youth League), KDU (Swedish Young Christian Democrats) and SDU (Swedish Democratic Youth). The red-green youth associations were positive to continue with new tobacco prevention measures such as neutral tobacco packaging (so-called plain packaging), bans on flavorings in tobacco products and bans on their exposure. At the same time, they wanted to regulate snus and e-cigarettes in a similar way to traditional cigarettes and problematized the tobacco industry’s marketing towards young people. The conservative and Sweden Democratic youth unions instead opposed all proposals for new tobacco prevention measures. Several of them disliked the expanded smoke-free environments that were introduced in 2019 (outdoor restaurants, bus stops, playgrounds, etc.) and wanted to promote the consumption of snus in various ways.

In a comparison between the interviews with members of parliament from the youth unions’ parent parties last year and the representatives of the political youth associations, some similarities emerged. Both present day and future political leaders admitted that the tobacco issue is not a priority. It is not seen as an issue that causes voters to change parties and is therefore not given a place in debates and election campaigns. Among the representatives from the red-green parliamentary parties: The Left Party, the Social Democrats and the Green Party and their respective youth unions, there was a high level of agreement in their answers. They shared views on already implemented proposals as well as on new tobacco prevention measures.

A general difference between the members of parliament and the young politicians was the focus on the use of snus, especially white snus. As the members of parliament had a clear focus on smoking and traditional cigarettes, the young politicians attached more importance to white snus. Several young politicians described how the concept of daily smoking felt abstract as they had no one in their circles of acquaintances who smoked and as they grew up in a society where smoking was prohibited in many places. On the other hand, several of the young politicians themselves used white snuff, and said that many of their friends did the same. Among young politicians there was a strong commitment to regulate white snus more strictly than today while members of parliament wanted to deregulate it and not oppose its consumption available. Furthermore, there were significant differences of opinion between conservative parent parties and youth associations. The interviewed representatives from the Moderates, the Liberals and the Christian Democrats were significantly more positive about both already implemented and new proposals for tobacco prevention measures than their youth unions MUF, LUF and KDU, which strongly opposed all these actions.

The last chapter of the report is a survey of future tobacco policy. There are many indications that the tobacco issue will continue to be a low priority and will not take place in political debates and election campaigns in the future. A generally low commitment, which could be seen among today’s young politicians, is also linked to a low level of knowledge in the tobacco area. That makes future members of parliament easier targets for tobacco lobbyists’ attempts at political influence.

It is likely that the tobacco policy of the future will not be so much about smoking, but instead about white snuff, despite the fact that smoking is still one of the biggest causes of illness and premature death in Sweden that can be avoided. The use of white snus has increased sharply among young people and engages young politicians significantly more than smoking. In 2021, Kantar Sifo, a company that performs public opinion studies, interviewed 2,000 Swedes on behalf of Tobaksfakta. The survey shows that 78% of respondents opposed the launch of white snus, as they understood that the product is both harmful to health and addictive. However, the tobacco industry seems to have succeeded in portraying the product as harmless to large groups of the population and also to many politicians. The tobacco industry will continue to invest large resources in lobbying for white snus to be deregulated and thus consumed by more young people. If large groups of young people end up in lifelong addictions to the product, the long-term financial profits of the tobacco companies will be secured.

Despite the fact that today there is widespread opposition to white snus among the population, the future political battle over the product is uncertain. Among the interviewed youth associations, Young Left, Social Democratic Youth League and Young Greens wanted to regulate white snus more strictly than today, including by stopping marketing and flavorings. Other youth associations want to deregulate and introduce measures that would rather increase consumption of the product. At the same time, the red-green youth associations criticized the influence of tobacco lobbyism on Swedish politicians and wanted to regulate lobbyism. In contrast, conservative and Sweden Democratic youth associations saw no problem with Swedish politicians having close contacts and exchanges with tobacco lobbyists. Which side the tobacco industry prefers is not difficult to predict. The future will tell which party will win the future tobacco policy battle.

What does it look like in your country?

Maybe results from the study are unique for Swedish youth politicians. But what if here are similarities amongst youth politicians in your country. What if your youth politicians were in the same situation, being an easy prey for the tobacco lobbying? That would be a serious threat to the European youth´s health!

Together we can plan for an extended evaluation. Let´s share experiences and plans for a serious examination. Contact Nils Lundin  for further discussion.

Read abstract from ECToH

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