Expert comments on nicotine pouches policy change in Finland

Finland’s Proposal on Nicotine Pouches: ‘A Step Forward’

From the vision of a ‘smoke-free Finland’ to a more progressive attitude towards alternative nicotine products. What does Finland’s nicotine pouches policy shift mean for the country’s future? Snusforumet had a chat with Theo Herold, a doctoral student at Hanken School of Economics in Helsinki.

Given Finland’s new stance on nicotine pouches, can you share your take on them and snus?

I advocate for smokeless options like snus, personally seeing their advantages over traditional smoking. Given the EU’s ban contrasted with Sweden’s lower cancer rates linked to smoking, it’s evident many are considering these alternatives. Although they are not risk-free, they represent a potentially safer choice for many.

The previous administration aimed for a “smokeless Finland” by 2030, including a ban on snus. What’s the new government’s stance?

The past government’s vision for a “smokeless Finland” included a snus ban. However, the rise of the black market and possible tax revenue losses have made it clear that this approach might not be optimal. In light of the Finnish Medicines Agency’s new stance on nicotine pouches, the current government appears more inclined to regulate through taxation rather than outright bans.

Does the new policy favor a harm reduction approach?

Indeed, the new government is transitioning from a prohibitive stance to recognizing the potential value of smokeless options. With nicotine pouches now more accessible and prices becoming competitive, this direction seems to prioritize harm reduction, though tangible health benefits may need time to manifest.

How do you view the shift from the past government’s strict no-snus stance to the current government’s open-minded approach?

Finland and Sweden both emphasize public health, but their strategies have diverged. While both countries have historically favored state-control on the distribution of tobacco and gambling, Sweden’s enduring relationship with snus is notable. Their defense of snus during EU accession talks starkly contrasts with Finland’s decision, which seems more focused on EU alignment than genuine opposition to snus.

Are you saying Finland’s choice to follow the EU’s snus rules was more about aligning with the EU than an actual opposition to the product?

Precisely. While the EU bans snus, products with similar ingredients but different labels manage to circumvent these restrictions. Denmark’s ‘chewing tobacco’ is a prime example. It would be beneficial for the EU to reconsider its stance on snus. The fact that Finland is now selling nicotine pouches suggests that it’s not merely about adhering to EU directives. An EU-wide acceptance would better serve harm reduction goals and consumers’ rights.

Why is the new government more receptive?

The pivotal moment was the Finnish Medicines Agency’s reclassification of nicotine pouches. Since then, the government’s response has indicated a growing acceptance and a potential shift regarding smokeless options.

How much did potential tax revenues influence the government’s decision?

While it’s challenging to quantify exactly, the potential annual tax revenue, possibly reaching €70 million, is undoubtedly significant. This figure doesn’t encompass the indirect costs related to the black market or health complications from smoking. Although these fiscal incentives might not be the primary motivation, they undeniably played a role in the decision-making process.

The health ministry suggests fast-paced policy changes next year. What does this entail?

Finland’s evolution from a stringent position on nicotine products to a more accommodating one could serve as a template for other EU nations. Numerous tobacco-related proposals are being discussed in the Finnish parliament, and I’m optimistic about maintaining this progressive momentum.

How can Sweden and Finland collaborate as these policies evolve?

Given Sweden’s extensive experience with snus and its related health outcomes, their expertise is invaluable for Finland. Increased dialogue between our health departments could facilitate well-informed policies. Collaborative market oversight is also crucial to ensure fair competition. In this time of change, joint efforts between Sweden and Finland would be mutually advantageous.