The sudden arrival of nicotine pouches on store shelves in Finland coupled with a potential ban has left consumers reeling. Thousands of Finns have already signed a new petition supporting the continued legalisation of nicotine pouches.
One of the petition’s organisers, former MP Mikko Kärn, spoke with Snusforumet about the campaign, current legislation, and the potential benefits of legalising tobacco-free alternatives.
Tobacco-free nicotine pouches were, until recently, considered pharmaceutical products in Finland, available only through prescription. However, a recent decision by the country’s pharmaceutical regulator to stop regulating the products led to their sudden and unexpected availability in stores nationwide. This newfound freedom, though, may be short-lived.
The country’s health and welfare agency has since signaled nicotine pouches will be covered in an updated Tobacco Act when revisions are completed later this year. The changes,currently under review by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, could impose the same regulatory restrictions on nicotine pouches as traditional snus, leading to potential sales bans and import restrictions.
Amidst the regulatory whirlwind, the “Legalising Nicotine Pouches in Finland” Citizens Initiative petition emerged in early May, gaining nearly 14,000 signatures in the first month. If the petition attracts 50,000 signatures in less than six months, the Finnish parliament is required by law to consider the issue, which would likely prompt a broader reconsideration of Finland’s nicotine policy. Mikko Kärnä, one of the petition’s initiators and a former MP from the Centre Party, tells Snusforumet he’s optimistic about the petition’s chances of success.
What inspired you and your co-initiators to launch this petition?
Our motivation stemmed from the current legal inconsistencies surrounding nicotine products. It’s absurd that traditional tobacco products, despite their known health risks, are legal while less harmful nicotine pouches aren’t. I’m a snus user, and during the Covid travel ban, it was challenging to acquire snus. I resorted to making my own using ingredients readily available in Finland. It’s astonishing that you can manufacture snus at home but can’t purchase a ready-made product. This petition seeks to protect the Finnish people’s interests and their right to healthier nicotine alternatives.
Why do you think the Finnish government’s stance on nicotine pouches is flawed?
The government’s aim to eradicate nicotine usage by 2030 feels unrealistic and counterproductive. It disregards the demand amongst Finnish people for nicotine products. Allowing adult consumers to transition to less harmful nicotine products could make it a lot easier for people to quit cigarette smoking. This could boost public health and help Finland retain tax revenues from nicotine pouch sales that currently end up elsewhere. This approach needs balance, taking into account harm reduction and responsible regulation.
What’s the reaction been to nicotine pouches suddenly appearing in stores across Finland?
The response across Finland to nicotine pouches has been overwhelmingly positive. They view them as a discreet, non-intrusive alternative to smoking with no smell or harm to bystanders. The rapidly growing number of signatures on our petition affirms this sentiment. Finns understand the rationale behind this initiative.
How do you respond to those concerned about increased nicotine use among youth?
It’s a valid concern. That’s why robust regulation is crucial, rather than prohibition. A well-structured regulatory framework can control sales, especially to minors, and significantly decrease illegal trade. Legalising nicotine pouches would also free up resources for our customs and police services, allowing them to focus on more serious crimes.
Why do some see alternative nicotine products as so dangerous?
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health’s rigid stance seems more fundamental than rational. Especially given studies, like the one conducted by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment in 2021, that indicate the low health risks of nicotine pouches.
I’ve long advocated for this issue in politics. Our goal is to promote the welfare of the Finnish people and increase tax revenue. Despite multiple initiatives to negotiate with the Ministry, they appear intractable. That’s why we’re trying to secure enough signatures to force parliament to address the issue. I’m hopeful that parliament will see the value of bringing nicotine pouches to the market.
How do Finns usually get nicotine pouches, and what impact have recent rule changes had?
Most Finns either order online, travel to Haparanda near the Finland-Sweden border, or purchase on cruise ships. Legalising these products would enable in-store purchases, providing convenience for everyone. We estimate that legalising nicotine pouches could contribute to annual sales of about 60-70 million pouches, yielding VAT and excise tax revenue of roughly 140-200 million euros per year. This revenue could stabilise our budget without raising taxes and could significantly benefit our social and healthcare sectors.
What lessons can Finland learn from countries like Sweden, where snus and nicotine pouches are legal?
Countries like Sweden provide a useful case study in successful harm reduction strategies. We’ve also seen the benefits of liberalising nicotine pouches in Norway*, Denmark, and Iceland. It leads to controlled use, improved public health, reduced smoking rates, and increased tax revenue. Unfortunately, Finland’s outdated regulations hinder progress while our neighbors advance.
If you could address the Finnish government directly, what would you say?
I would urge them to consider harm reduction. It seems they disregard the tangible benefits of this approach. We need to focus on what benefits our people and economy most. It’s not about competing with the government but serving the best interests of the Finnish people based on evidence.
*Editor’s Note: In Norway, 100 percent tobacco-free nicotine pouches have been banned since 2018. However, producers responded by marketing nicotine pouches with a small amount of tobacco mixed in to comply with the regulations.