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Espoo first in Finland to opt for laser show as public sours on fireworks

As of mid-day Friday, nearly 40,000 people had signed a citizens’ initiative aimed at banning consumers from using fireworks.

As the New Year approaches, merchants and consumers looking to ring in 2019 with a bang are on the lookout for the biggest and brightest pyrotechnics for the occasion.

This year though, a movement opposing the cacophonous displays has gained momentum with the launch of a citizens’ initiative aimed at prohibiting the use of fireworks by consumers.

The city of Espoo is already moving away from using fireworks for New Year celebrations and will be the first municipality in Finland to provide a laser light show instead of rockets and firecrackers. According to Espoo culture services chief Lea Rintala, the city has long since left behind the noisy, smoky shows.

"We are a sustainable development city and rockets don’t really sit well with that. However over the years we have received some feedback about this, so we are now trialling a laser show," Rintala said.

News of the alternative to fireworks has already generated a surprising amount of interest, Rintala added.

"For example there has been a very animated discussion on social media about this option and only in a positive way," noted event coordinator Saara Vanhala.

Residents and visitors can expect a light park with a laser show that covers an area including the Espoo cathedral, the nearby Kirkkopuisto park and the river bank. Other light shows may also take place in other parts of the city during the year.

Turku, in southwest Finland, is also said to be contemplating following in Espoo’s footsteps.

Meanwhile, at least one Helsinki grocery has decided not to sell any fireworks this year. According to law, the public may use fireworks in New Year’s Eve from 6.00pm until 2.00am on New Year’s morning.

However Norway banned the use of fireworks by private individuals years ago and starting next year, Sweden will require a permit for the use of certain kinds of stick-mounted fireworks.

Citizens’ initiative picking up speed, doctors on board

A citizens’ initiative to prohibit the use of fireworks by private individuals was launched in early December and had gathered the support of nearly 40,000 individuals by mid-day Friday.

The initiative must have the backing of 50,000 signatories by June for MPs to consider legislative changes based on the proposal.

The initiative itself has been endorsed by 14 NGOs and lobby groups, including the Finnish Medical Association. The physicians’ lobby group said that fireworks cause up to 30 eye injuries annually.

"The health hazards, injuries and dangers fireworks cause every year are our primary motive for supporting this initiative. Eye injuries in particular, but also burns and damage to hearing," explained Hannu Halila, deputy chair of the association.

The last time officials in Finland took steps to limit the use of pyrotechnics was ten years ago, when its use was proscribed for minors and the use of protective eyewear became compulsory. The window for using fireworks was also shortened by four hours.

Halila said that those changes have helped reduce cases of eye injury, but not enough.

"All of the people who’ve sustained injuries haven’t shot rockets themselves. Mere bystanders are also exposed to injury. The initiative would still allow professionals to use fireworks because we have not received any information about accidents caused by expert users," he pointed out.

The Chemicals and Safety Agency Tukes has recommended the use of safety goggles by persons shooting rockets as well as bystanders.

Apart from the risk of injury to humans, concern for animals affected by the noise caused by fireworks has become a perennial talking point. Evidensia, a chain of veterinary clinics, has called on the public to spare a thought for horses in particular, during the New Year revelry.