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Flurry of proposals issued by ministry group to make Finland smoke-free by 2030

Proposals made by a Ministry of Social Affairs and Health working group include raising the smoking age, big tobacco tax hikes and smoking bans in many places.

File photo. Image: AOP

Finland has set a goal to make the country smoke-free by the year 2030. In order to reach that goal in time, a working group of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health submitted a lengthy list of proposals which will likely addressed by the new government after next year's elections.

"Smoke-free" is a bit of a misnomer, because in reality the goal is to reduce tobacco use to a level of less than five percent of the population. That includes all nicotine products, including cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, nicotine-containing e-cigarette products and others.

Today about 12 percent of adults in Finland smoke tobacco. Three percent of the population uses the orally-ingested tobacco product snus, even though the sale of it has been banned in Finland for years.

Tobacco tax hikes

The group said one way to reduce the number of smokers is to raise the price of cigarettes through taxes. If tobacco tax schemes continue as they have over the past four years a pack of smokes will cost more than 10 euros by the year 2024.

The group said that past tax increases on cigarettes have already helped reduce smoking figures, and that it hopes new tobacco products will also see tax increases similar to ones levied on cigarettes.

The group proposes it wants to examine the possibility of further taxing tobacco-free items like e-cigarette products that contain nicotine. It also proposes that all cigarette packs - regardless of brand or manufacturer - should look identical, a practice that's already in place in Norway.

Raise age limit

Today, people need to be at least 18 years old to legally buy tobacco products in Finland, but the group proposes that the country raise the age limit to 20. It said that doing so would help reduce the number of people who start smoking in the first place.

According to the group's estimates, if the age limit to buy tobacco would be raised to 21, some 12 percent fewer young people would start smoking than current levels. If the age was raised to 25, the group said, there would be a 16 percent reduction in new smokers.

Smoke-free bus stops and beaches

The ministry working group also wants to tackle where people can smoke. It proposes banning the use of all forms of tobacco, including snus and e-cigarettes in certain areas, particularly where children often gather like parks and even beaches.

It also wants to ban tobacco use at bus stops and at taxi queue stations.

It suggests that housing companies should have the right to ban residents' smoking on balconies - which is already possibile but due to heavy paperwork, it's not very popular yet - as well as inside apartments.

The group said that with a majority vote of members, housing companies should be able to simply ban tobacco use on their property.

The bans on smoking in these areas would be enforced by fines, similar to ones issued by parking wardens, according to the group.

Drastically reduce imports

Even though it has been illegal to purchase or sell snus in Finland for years, it remains a popular vice. The EU banned snus products across the bloc - with the exception of Sweden and Denmark - years ago. But it is estimated that tens of millions of cans of the moist tobacco product are brought into Finland every year.

Current laws on the books state that individuals can import up to one kilogramme of snus to Finland each day.

The group instead proposes that snus imports should be limited to an reasonable amount for personal use, suggesting a 100-gram-per-day limit, which is equivalent to two of the round containers of the tobacco product.

Despite Finland's current ban on the sale of snus, use of the product has actually risen in recent years, the ministry group said.

The ministry working group also wants to cut the amount of tobacco that can be imported from outside the EU. Currently travellers from abroad can bring in a 10-pack carton of cigarettes, but the group proposes to bring that number down to two packs.

Prescribed smoking cessation support

Many of its proposals on tobacco are aimed at getting people to stop using tobacco entirely. One measure it proposes is for Kela, the national social insurance agency, to help smokers pay for prescription smoking cessation aids.

The ministry group said it also aims to avoid people switching their addiction to cigarettes to other nicotine products, saying that health authorities should have more power to regulate how those products are distributed.

Even though those nicotine replacement products may help people stop smoking, according to the group, they often simply change from being addicted to cigarettes to becoming dependent on alternative products.

29.10.2018 10:05 am: Story was updated to reflect that the proposals were made by a working group at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, not the ministry as a whole, and removed a sentence indicated the proposals had been submitted to parliament, which is not the case.