Eroding the tobacco brand imageThe use of advertising and marketing language has gradually succeeded in eroding the attractive brand image of smoking built up over time, but the job is by no means complete. "The MSAH is proposing that in the future tobacco products can only be sold in standardised and plain packaging on which written health warning and images of the harm caused by smoking take up at least 65% of tobacco packages," says Ministerial Advisor Meri Paavola.
Grim looking packaging is intended to influence people's image of smoking and consequently dampen their enthusiasm for starting the habit. Pricing, availability and lack of prohibitions on smoking also have an impact on smoking uptake. There is already a ban on displaying tobacco products in shops, and there are plans to expand smoke free environments.
Increases to the tax on tobacco are also expected, though in such a way as not to increase the black market sale of tobacco. For the same reason, the aim is to set time limits on the importation of tobacco products by travellers, as applies to alcohol. Customs authorities estimate that some 90% of people visiting Russia return with tobacco products, most of which end up being sold illegally.
The MSAH's draft amendments to the Tobacco Act contain the new revisions to the EU's Tobacco Products Directive, due come into effect in spring 2016. Additionally, the amendments to the act aim to update it in line with Finland's own tobacco policy action programme.
"The measures implemented so far have achieved good results, and we should further promote this trend. For instance, smoking on a daily basis by young people has decreased by half from figures for the turn of the millennium. Smoking among adults has decreased by a third in both men and women," Paavola explains.
More support for quittingWhile ideas of smoking being glamorous influence its uptake, it is nicotine addiction that usually sustains the continued use of tobacco products. Paavola says that by European standards Finland has not performed so well in providing support for quitting smoking.
"The way smoking is dealt with in health care is too haphazard, and the treatment chain does not operate smoothly. We want to manage the situation according to the system of Current Care Guidelines. That way smoking will be monitored systematically and various forms of support will be provided for people quitting. Nicotine replacement therapy and other forms of medication for quitting smoking should come within the sphere of reimbursements for pharmaceuticals provided by the Social Insurance Institution."
Paavola recalls that according to an opinion poll, as many as 80 - 90% of adults who smoke regret ever having started, and many of them have tried to stop several times. Apart from health care interventions, smoke free environments can also help people quit smoking.
"We are proposing to ban smoking at places such as play and amusement parks, and beaches, and we are encouraging municipalities and workplaces to declare themselves smoke-free. Smoking should also be prohibited in private cars in which there are children, because of the harm from environmental tobacco smoke."
Smoking on the balconies of private apartments has often put a strain on relations between neighbours. The amended Tobacco Act aims to offer a solution whereby housing companies may under certain conditions be able to decide on restricting or prohibiting smoking in residential properties.
Obligations for manufacturersThe amended Tobacco Act also places obligations on tobacco product manufacturers. The tobacco industry will have to provide precise statements on product ingredients, and announce new tobacco products before they are put on the market. The use of flavourings and certain other additives will also be banned from use in cigarettes and rolling tobacco.
E-cigarettes will also be regulated according to safety and quality requirements. In the EU Directive, electronic cigarettes containing less than 20 mg/ml of nicotine will be treated as tobacco products, and will be subject to the same regulations. Quantities above this limit will be subject to legislation on pharmaceuticals.
EU member states are nevertheless entitled to classify all e-cigarettes containing nicotine according to pharmaceutical legislation. According to the proposed amendments to the Tobacco Act, Finland would continue with this policy for now due to the lack of research data on the health impact of e-cigarettes.
Text: Paula Mannonen