New Tobacco Act aims high

20.9.2010 6.19
News item N5-56153

Efforts are being made in Finland under the new Tobacco Act, which comes into effect at the beginning of October, to prevent children and youth from taking up smoking and to restrict smoking in their growing environments. Finland is the first country to stipulate in law that its aim is to gradually end the use of tobacco products altogether. Ismo Tuominen hopes that many countries will now follow Finland's example.

Tuominen says that the new law makes the country's tobacco policy significantly clearer, starting with its title. In addition to the target regulations, there is a change of title from Act on Measures to Reduce Smoking to the Tobacco Act.

"I think that the previous title and objective of the act had the in-built assumption that the use of tobacco products was a permanent feature of society and people's lives. However, there is no way that the selling of tobacco products would be allowed if they had just come on the market."

One ambitious aim of the new law is to give the tobacco industry the chance to prepare for further restrictions on the sale, preparation and provision of tobacco products. The straightforward provision in the new law dealing with its objectives may be an advantage if Finland's tobacco policy comes in for scrutiny, for example by the European Court of Justice.

"When it makes verdicts, the European Court of Justice has to assess whether the actions of a member state are proportionate to its national policy objectives. The unambiguous aim of the Tobacco Act anticipates far-reaching restrictions by Finland," says Tuominen.

Protecting children and youth

The prohibitions and restrictions of the new Tobacco Act particularly aim at intervening in smoking by children and youth. No one may sell or give tobacco products to people under 18, who are also forbidden from possessing them or bringing them into the country. Selling cigarettes to or buying cigarettes from a shop to give to under aged people constitute a tobacco sales violation, which may be punishable by a fine or up to six months imprisonment.
"So far, smoking among children and youth has in places been even more common than among adults. If we cut back underaged smoking, it will mean that in the future there will be fewer adults who smoke."

Tuominen says that banning the possession of tobacco products by children and youth allows adults better opportunities to intervene in underage smoking, such as in school and various recreational camp activities.
"There'd be further support for supervision, as it will be possible to cite the law, in addition to camp rules. In the future it would be good to inform people of actual cases where, for instance, giving or selling tobacco products to underaged people have resulted in fines."

Policy of small steps

Tuominen believes that Finland's tobacco policy needs to be made stricter with small steps. Though the goal of the new act is to end smoking, it would not be possible in practice to prohibit the sale of tobacco altogether.
"Simply writing a law is no help when there are still nearly a million smokers in the country. A law prohibiting tobacco sales would most likely only result in widespread smuggling and illegal imports. We should first reduce use so much that the benefits of prohibition would be greater than the resulting disadvantages."

Prohibitions and restrictions concerning tobacco products and smoking need to be controlled and their supervision made practicable. There are no penalties in the new act for possessing tobacco or for offering it to anyone underaged, because there simply wouldn't be enough police for supervision.

"It's often the case, however, that the need for supervision declines when legislation proceeds along the same lines as people's needs. For example, the ban on smoking in bars and restaurants proved that hardly any supervision is required because citizens consider it almost a constitutional right not to have to sit in smoky bars and restaurants."

An example to others

Tuominen hopes that other countries will be encouraged to follow Finland's example in their own legislation.
"Many physicians' organizations from different countries have already begun to demand tougher action by politicians to reduce smoking. The hope is that they would advance the model given by Finland. Illegal imports of tobacco products and smuggling will be harder, if more countries followed the same sort of policy concerning the sale and use of tobacco products."

Anni Syrjäläinen