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Surprise turn: Teen consumption of alcohol and snus edges upward

Sweden should crack down on exports of smokeless tobacco, says a leading public health expert.

Snus is gaining popularity among teenage girls. Image: Henrietta Hassinen / Yle

Youth in Finland still drink and smoke significantly less than in the early 2000s, but now this positive trend seems to have come to a halt, according to the biannual Adolescent Health and Lifestyle Survey.

Fewer youngsters are complete teetotallers, and the use of snus - a powdered smokeless tobacco - is increasing, especially among girls. That is in comparison to the previous poll carried out in 2017.

One in 10 boys aged 14-18 said they use tobacco products on a daily basis, along with eight percent of girls of the same age. The share of boys was the same as two years earlier, but the girls' share rose slightly, which explains an overall rise in the use of snus.

The share of girls who use snus occasionally or regularly edged up from three percent to nearly five percent. Boys' use slipped slightly to 11.5 percent.

About one third of teens aged 14-18 drink alcohol at least once a month, with the figures about the same for both sexes.

However the proportion who say they do not drink at all declined to 43 percent of boys and 40 percent of girls, down from 45 and 43 percent respectively two years ago.

Professor criticizes Swedish officials

Arja Rimpelä, a professor of public health at the University of Tampere who worked on the study, says she is concerned by the apparent slowdown.

"At worst, this could be a turning point in the long-term development," she says.

She is particularly worried about the use of snus, and its rising popularity among girls.

Rimpelä points out that the product contains nicotine, so it is highly addictive. And although sales are illegal in Finland, the tobacco product is easy to obtain as it is brought in from neighbouring Sweden, which has a waiver on the EU snus ban.

"Snus is actively sold, for instance, through social media, as well as in shops just over the border from Tornio, where it is easy to buy and bring into Finland without any monitoring," Rimpelä tells Yle.

"The Swedes should crack down on it so that their snus does not get into other countries," she urges.

On the plus side, she says, cigarette smoking has dropped drastically among young Finns in the past couple of decades.

The National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) has carried out the Adolescent Health and Lifestyle Survey every two years since 1977. This time there were 3,520 respondents.