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Finland: Plan to Become a Smoke-Free Country

(Aug. 8, 2014) Finland’s government has adopted a Roadmap Towards a Smoke-Free Finland, designed to both help smokers quit and prevent people from starting to smoke in the first place. (Finland Wants to Be Smoke-Free by 2040, ICE NEWS (July 8, 2014).)

Among the key features of the Roadmap, according to a statement from the Ministry of Social Affairs reported in July 2014, are the proposed imposition of regular increases in the taxes on tobacco products and the introduction of unbranded packaging. The hope is that both increasing the price and making the packaging less attractive to consumers will reduce use of tobacco. (Id.) Finland recently did raise the excise tax on tobacco and cigarettes, together with taxes on electricity, fuel, and vehicles, but it was done as a fund-raising, rather than as a public health, measure. (Laura Ambagtsheer-Pakarinen, Government Reaches Agreement on Measures to Cut Public Spending, IBFD TAX RESEARCH PLATFORM (Mar. 26, 2014), International Bureau of Fiscal Documentation online subscription database.)

Other aspects of the Roadmap involve aiding those who want to quit smoking and the creation of more “smoke-free habitats,” which would include residential properties with smoking bans. In addition, the government plans to advocate smoking bans for vehicles in which children ride and for locations that they frequent, such as beaches, playgrounds, and amusement parks. (Finland Wants to Be Smoke-Free by 2040, supra.)

The goal of the Roadmap is to achieve an essentially smoke-free society by 2040. The Finnish Tobacco Act was amended in 2010 to state that its purpose is to “prevent people from taking up the use of tobacco products, to promote quitting their use and to protect the population against exposure to tobacco smoke. The aim of the Act is to end the use of tobacco products containing compounds that are toxic to humans and create addiction.” (Tobacco Act, No. 693/1976 (as amended on Oct. 1, 2010), § 1, Finland Smoke-Free by 2040 website.)

Efforts by Civil Society Groups

A coalition of 17 non-governmental organizations, primarily groups devoted to better public health, has been working to encourage the government to take steps to reduce smoking, with a goal of cutting usage by about 10% a year. (Finland Tobacco-Free by 2040, Finland Smoke-Free by 2040 website (last visited Aug. 6, 2014).) According to the coalition’s website, as of the beginning of 2013, of 320 municipalities in Finland, 200 identified themselves as smoke-free. (Id.)

Progress to Date

Susanna Huovinen, Finland’s Minister of Health and Social Services, has stated that the government’s efforts have already resulted in a reduction in the proportion of the people who are smokers. Given that many Finns begin smoking in their teen years, the Roadmap focuses in large part on measures to prevent adolescents from taking up the habit. The rate of smoking among teenagers has declined in the last decade; the hope is that the overall smoking rate for those 15 to 64 years of age will reach 2% by 2040. (Finland Wants to Be Smoke-Free by 2040, supra.)