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Ministry panel calls for sharp tax hike on tobacco products

Finland has set a target of phasing out all tobacco and nicotine products by 2030. A new white paper spells out tougher means toward that end.

Tupakka palaa sormien välissä
Image: Henrietta Hassinen / Yle

Price is the key weapon in preventing harm from tobacco, says a working group set up by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health to study how to further reduce the use of tobacco and nicotine products in the country. The panel is to present its recommendations to Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services Annika Saarikko on Thursday. They include pushing ahead with increases in tobacco taxes over the coming years.

If the working group’s proposals are adopted, the price of tobacco will keep rising. In 2016, Parliament ratified the Tobacco Act with the aim of ending the use of tobacco and other nicotine products in Finland by 2030.

Päivi Mononen-Mikkilä, communications director at the Finnish branch of tobacco giant Philip Morris, said she is not surprised by the panel’s recommendation, but argues that higher prices could have consequences for Finland.

“For instance, a pack of cigarettes already costs around eight euros, and if the price rises a lot then [personal] imports from abroad could increase,” Mononen-Mikkilä says.

The committee will also urge the government to reconsider the minimum age limit for purchasing tobacco products, which is now 18.

Tougher stand on balcony smoking

“Without having seen the memo, it is difficult to take a stand on the details, but it seems that the panel has completely forgotten the new tobacco policy trend, which is harm reduction,” Mononen-Mikkilä says. In practice, she says, this means offering consumers the opportunity to switch to smokeless nicotine products.

The working group also wants to make it easier for apartment-dwellers to ban smoking on balconies in their blocks of flats. It calls for an expansion of smoke-free areas, including balconies.

The experts say that Finland needs a clearer procedure whereby housing cooperatives can forbid balcony smoking through a majority vote by residents. At present, such decisions must be unanimous, so one smoker can block such a ban.

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