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12/17/2012 06:39 pm ET Updated Dec 18, 2012

Omsorgsjul Hemlösa, Swedish Charity, Criticized For Handing Out Cigarettes To Homeless People

A Swedish charity has recently come under fire for giving out cigarettes to the homeless.

Omsorgsjul - Hemlösa, which means Care Christmas – the Homeless, doled holiday gifts to people without shelter, which included hats, warm clothes, chocolate and 150 packs of cigarettes, the Local reports. While the president of Denistry Against Tobacco came out against handing out packs of smokes, executives at the charity remained firm in defending what’s become an annual tradition.

"These people are our friends whom we care about and in this context the cigarettes aren't that dangerous,” Lennart Cederberg, a charity exec, told the local Folkbladet newspaper. “They smoke all the time anyway."

But the nonprofit’s “gift” may actually just be perpetuating a rampant unhealthy trend on the streets.

A 2009 study published by the National Coalition for the Homeless reported that between 70 and 80 percent of homeless adults in the United States smoke tobacco, compared with only 19.8 percent of adults in the general population. Aware of the disproportionate number of homeless smokers, tobacco companies targeted this specific population in the 90s by giving shelters free cigarette samples and blankets with company logos, according to the study. On the other hand, shelters often encourage smoking and are unlikely to offer cessation programs.

Cederberg told the Local that her charity is comfortable promoting smoking because her donors don’t object and it, in some ways, helps keep the homeless clients alive.

"Come and help them and make sure they receive accommodation instead of whining," Cederberg told the Local of how critics should deal with their concerns. "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."

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