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Finland stubs out menthol cigarettes

Menthol-flavoured cigarettes are no longer available in Finland--or anywhere else in the EU.

Pallon Teboilin tupakkahylly
Shopkeepers in Finland said people had been hoarding menthol cigarettes ahead of new rules. Image: Kare Lehtonen/Yle

As of Wednesday smokers in Finland can no longer buy menthol cigarettes following a European-wide change to tobacco laws.

Menthol was the last cigarette flavor permitted before new rules came into force on 20 May designed to keep teenagers from taking up smoking.

"One woman just walked in and bough eleven packs. She would have bought even more but we ran out of her brand," Martti Miettinen of Pallo Teboil service station in Lappeenranta told Yle on Tuesday.

He said menthol cigarettes had accounted for 40 percent of the gas station's tobacco sales.

Tuesday was the last day smokers in Finland--or anywhere else in the EU-- could purchase menthol cigarettes, usually sold in a green package to signal the signature minty flavour. From now on cigarettes can only taste and smell like real tobacco.

The EU had already banned all other flavouring in tobacco products--as they're designed to make smoking more appealing. Menthol cigaretts were, however, granted a special extension by the bloc until 2020.

From minty green to boring brown

Finns had taken a liking to menthol cigarettes.

"Twenty-four percent of smokers in Finland lit up menthol cigarettes. They’ve been more popular here than in any other EU country," Meri Paavola, a ministerial adviser at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, told Yle.

Finland has set a goal of making the country smoke-free by the year 2030. According to Paavola, removing flavour from tobacco is another step on the path to making smoking less appealing to youngsters.

So far in Finland, it appears as if attempts to tarnish the image of smoking are working. A decade ago one-fifth of boys and girls between the ages of 14 and 20 reported smoking daily. The most recent figures from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) indicate that seven percent of boys and six percent of girls light up on a daily basis.

"I believe banning menthol will specifically prevent young people from taking up the habit. Menthol numbs the throat to make it easier to start smoking," she explained.

To put smokers off further, plans are now in the works to replace product brands and logos with uniform packaging.

"In countries where this is already in place, packs are a drab greenish brown," Paavola said.

Flavour on the side

Scented strips that can be inserted into a cigarette pack are, however, still sold in Finland.

"These products fall within the scope of the tobacco law if they’re marketed for flavouring tobacco," Paavola explained, adding that a government tobacco working group in 2018 proposed a ban on infusion cards.

Figures from 2018 indicate 400,000 residents in Finland smoke every day.

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