New Finnish Coalition Government Pulls Back on Nicotine Pouch Ban
After months of regulatory wrangling, Finland’s moral crusade against nicotine pouches may be coming to an end. Now, it looks as though the election of a coalition government will see the product heavily regulated but not banned, which is encouraging news for anyone with a serious interest in reducing smoking-related deaths and illness in the country.
Sanna Marin’s Social Democrats finished third in a tight general election. Now, Petteri Orpo of the conservative National Coalition Party will seek to form a coalition with the right-wing populist Finns Party. Their draft coalition program includes a more sensible approach to nicotine pouches.
A tangled web
The story of how we got here is something of a mess. Here is a quick primer.
Snus is banned in Finland. Things have been that way since they joined the EU in 1995. However, tobacco-free nicotine pouches have been available in the country, although they were prescription only and regulated as pharmaceutical products.
In January 2023, Marin’s party (no, not that party) announced a draft bill that would, among other measures, ban the sale of nicotine pouches and restrict their import.
However, shortly after, Fimea, the Finnish Medicines Agency, announced that nicotine pouches should not be considered medicinal products. This announcement meant that nicotine pouches could be legally imported into the country. Of course, the moral crusade did not stop there.
Finland’s health and welfare agency, Valvira, suggested that its upcoming Tobacco Control Act would grow in scope and cover nicotine pouches — a product that contains no Tobacco.
Soon after, the administration was bolstered by a declaration from the country’s chemical regulator, Tukes, offering another pathway that could be used to stop the sales of the harm-reduction product.
However, now, some sense has prevailed. Marin’s party failed to win enough hearts and minds, despite a campaign launch party that featured a laser show. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we’re still discussing politics, not a Silicon Valley product launch.
Economic mismanagement put paid to Marin. As the cost of living crisis grew, she wanted to increase Finland’s debt even further. Reality hit. When times are tight, the electorate can’t indulge in the overly-simplistic student politics of the Magical Money Tree.
What now for nicotine pouches in Finland
The good news is that nicotine pouches will not be banned. However, the product will be subject to strict regulation.
These restrictions include:
• Retailers must apply for a permit to sell nicotine pouches
• Nicotine limits in use in neighbouring countries will apply
• Only flavours that are aimed at adults can be sold
Overall, this is a mixed bag.
Limiting nicotine pouch strength is reasonable. With excessive consumption, nicotine poisoning is possible. It makes sense to treat it like alcohol in that regard. Permits are just part and parcel of daily bureaucratic life.
However, the flavour restriction is not good. Firstly, as we know from Sweden, flavours are an important option that ex-smokers want when they transition away from smoking. Pretending that teenagers are the only people who eat or enjoy sweet and fruit flavours is preposterous. It’s one thing to ban cartoonish packaging but quite another to target flavours.
Petteri Orpo’s new coalition government has taken a sensible, scientific-informed approach to nicotine pouches. Instead of banning a product that helps people stop smoking, they will permit its sale, albeit with some restrictions.
Sana Marin was sold to us as a cool, progressive leather jacket-wearing leader. Instead, she presided over an anti-scientific, regressive, puritan, and undemocratic attack on nicotine pouches. It will take more than a few laser shows to convince me that her Social Democrats will be a big loss to the Finish people.
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