From Iceland — Tobacco Giant On Flavour Ban Of New Bill : Undermines Public Health Goals

Tobacco Giant On Flavour Ban Of New Bill : Undermines Public Health Goals

Published April 8, 2022

Alice Poggio
Photo by
Bystroushaak/Wikimedia Commons

BAT, otherwise known as British American Tobacco Denmark, submitted a commentary to the Minister of Health’s new bill on nicotine products. BAT is one of the largest tobacco producers in Europe.

Minister of Health Willum Þór Þórsson proposed a policy reform which would apply the same laws which now limit tobacco products to nicotine pouches, e-cigarettes, and refills. This amendment would essentially ban the import, production and sale of nicotine products which contain flavours that may appeal to children, such as sweets and fruit flavours. 

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These restrictions are proposed in order to reduce the consumption of nicotine products by children and young people. Willum reiterates that research has shown that the candy and fruit flavours especially play a key role in their popularity.

He proposes that the use of nicotine products be prohibited in kindergartens, primary schools, upper secondary schools, as well as in premises intended for day care and social, sports and leisure activities for children and young people. 

An outline of the bill’s main points can be found here.

Safeguarding children and young adults

It is clear that children and young people were the intended focus. The Medical Director of Health states: “Nicotine use by children and adolescents can have a negative effect on brain development, especially in areas that control concentration, mood, motivation and more.” It is irresponsible to offer nicotine products that are particularly appealing to children and adolescents.

On the 11th of May last year, Lára G. Sigurðardóttir, doctor of public health sciences, explained on Kastljós that nicotine is one of the most well-known addictive substances and that it has various effects on the body. More importantly, she said that the substance has a huge effect on the brain: “Because the brain does not reach full maturity until people are around twenty-five to thirty years old. So there are still a lot of nerve connections forming in the brain. It causes temperament changes, lack of concentration and affects learning ability and sleep”.

Pushback from MPs

However, despite young people being the targeted group of the bill, many believe that the flavour ban specifically, would affect adults most.

Members of the Independence Party don’t seem to approve of Willum’s bill. MP Hildur Sverrisdóttir said: “I think it goes too far. It is important to keep in mind that this is a product that was created primarily to curb tobacco consumption, which everyone agrees is much worse.”

“Some people might think it’s enough that children are not allowed to buy these products,” Hildur adds. “It has gone much further with restrictions on flavours and other things that have to do with the self-determination of adults outside the freedom of employment of the constitution and more. I would therefore like to ask, does the Minister not think this has gone too far in relation to the right of self-determination of adults?”

Willum Þór replied that the whole parliamentary world must agree that the most important thing is to consider public health.

Another Independence Party MP, Berglind Ósk Guðmundsdóttir, turned the attention to the slippery slope that this ban could lead to, saying, “Why can’t people who have reached the age of majority choose a product that is tasty? Alcohol, drinks and soft drinks are many with good fruit flavours and no one can think of banning them. Fast food is usually unhealthy and the main cause of obesity which is a major health problem but no one thinks of banning burgers, chips or pizzas. Such products are also openly marketed to children.”

Flavour’s role in the fight against tobacco

BAT insists that although they approve of the bans in schools, the age restrictions, and all the relative preventative measures for children’s use of pouches, it believes that the flavour ban will undermine public health objectives. Flavour plays a key role in helping smokers switch to a less harmful option. BAT’s commentary states: “Nicotine products and flavoured e-cigarettes can thus be crucial in the fight against tobacco use and support smokers to put out the cigarette. BAT therefore believes that the proposed taste ban not only counteracts the harm-reducing role of the pouches, but that it is also completely unclear what flavourings fall under it”.

RÚV reports that at the same time as the number of people smoking in Iceland has fallen sharply, the use of nicotine pouches and e-cigarettes has increased significantly. According to more recent figures from the Medical Director of Health, one third of Icelandic men and women 18 to 34 use nicotine pouches almost daily.

BAT also comments on the strength ceiling proposed in the bill. They say that the intensity should not be limited too much, so that e-cigarettes and nicotine pads are useful as a tool in the fight against tobacco use. 

In this context, BAT points out that the Swedish Institute for Standardization, Svenska Institutet för Standarder, has ruled that the strength ceiling should be 20 mg per pouch. BAT supports these thresholds.

The highest average strengths of nicotine pouches in Iceland are of 11mg. There can be anywhere from 8 milligrams to 20 milligrams of nicotine found in a single normal cigarette, with the average amount being 12 milligrams.

The company also proposes for the bill as a whole to take full effect 12 months after its approval, so as to give them time to work on implementation, sell existing varieties, and change production methods.

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