The new Finnish Tobacco Act brings important measures, yet needs further strengtheningTobacco
Otto Ruokolainen, Senior Specialist Published 23 May 2022
The new Finnish Tobacco Act came into force in May this year. The objective of a tobacco- and nicotine-free Finland by the year 2030, enacted in the previous Tobacco Act reform from eight years back stayed the same. In essence, this means that by the year 2030, no more than five percent of the population would use tobacco- or nicotine products on a daily basis.
What is new?
The foremost reform in the renewed Act was that all the promotional, advertising and marketing features – such as branding and logos – of unit packages of tobacco products, as well as electronic cigarettes and refill containers will be removed. This means that from May 1st 2023, cigarettes will be sold in uniform, plain packages. Other reforms include for example expanding smoking bans on playgrounds and public beaches.
Australia was the first country to introduce plain packaging in 2012. As of May 2022, at least 16 countries have implemented plain packaging, including Denmark, Norway, France, and the Netherlands. International and national research show that plain packages reduce the appeal of tobacco products and increase the effectiveness of the health warnings. Since packaging is a pivotal part of promotion of tobacco products, reducing their appeal is an important measure.
Tobacco smoke kills about 8 million people each year, of which 1 million die of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), passive smoking. A myriad of studies show the benefits of smoke-free indoor and outdoor environments. In particular, the idea of protecting vulnerable population groups has been at the forefront when considering these measures. Smoking bans on both playgrounds and public beaches relate to protecting children’s exposure to ETS. In addition to protecting others from ETS, the aim of prohibiting smoking at public beaches is to reduce the littering and environmental harm caused by smoking. Of the Nordic countries, Sweden has thus far been the only country that has adopted smoking bans on playgrounds.
Enlarging smoke-free environments also makes a contribution to the process of denormalizing tobacco. Denormalizing tobacco has been described as “all the programs and actions undertaken to reinforce the fact that tobacco use is not a mainstream or normal activity in our society” (read more about the concept in: Lavack AM. De‐normalization of tobacco in Canada. Social Marketing Quarterly. 1999;5(3):82–85). Thus, actions related to preventing and reducing the use as well as the visibility of tobacco relate to denormalizing tobacco, which in turn help to create a tobacco-free society.
Is it enough?
The new tobacco act includes important measures to reach the objective of a tobacco- and nicotine-free Finland by the year 2030. However, as there are only eight years to meet this objective, several pivotal measures should be considered. One of them could be raising the age-limit of tobacco purchases to 20 years. It has been shown that raising the age-limit prevents tobacco use among adolescents. Another measure could be to reduce the availability of tobacco products, for example, by further tax increases and reducing the outlet density by imposing minimum distance requirements between retailers. An essential measure would be strengthening tobacco cessation services at national and regional level. Smoking cessation is highly cost-effective, which means that resources allocated to it will pay themselves back in reduced morbidity and improved public health.
Tobacco control policies in Europe
The Tobacco Control Scale is a tool comparing the strictness (and therefore also the effectiveness) of tobacco control policies in the EU- countries. In 2019 out of 36 countries, the highest-ranking country was the UK while Finland was at the sixth place. Norway was at the fifth place and Iceland at the fourth place. Sweden was at the 15th place while Denmark was at the 29th place. Thus, there are large differences within Nordics regarding the tobacco control policies, yet room for improvement remain for all of these countries.
The article is written by researchers, on request of popNAD.