The Finnish government's proposal for the regulation of nicotine pouches is largely similar to the regulation of combustible tobacco products, including such measures as high taxation, a ban on distance sales, plain packaging and allowing only ”flavours aimed at adults”.
In many respects, these restrictions violate the basic principles of EU legislation and the public health goals aimed at reducing the devastating health hazards of smoking.
First of all, imposing restrictions similar to combustible cigarettes on nicotine pouches, which are considerably less harmful, violates the principle of proportionality. This disproportionality becomes even more pronounced considering that, in contrast to cigarettes, nicotine pouches have potential for significant public health benefits as a substitute for much more harmful smoking.
The decline in smoking has typically accelerated as the use of less harmful alternatives increases. This has been noticeable, for example, in various Nordic countries alongside the increase in the use of snus, in Japan with the introduction of heated tobacco products and in the United States, Great Britain, Canada and New Zealand in connection with the increase in the use of electronic cigarettes.
On the other hand, in Finland, where alternative nicotine products are regulated exceptionally strictly, the decline in smoking has slowed down in recent years. Smoking is also more common in Finland than in most of the above countries.
Taking into account the low risk level and the potential for public health benefits of nicotine pouches, the restrictive measures proposed by the Finnish government also create unjustified obstacles to the free movement of goods in the EU internal market. It should be noted that, for example, there are no similar trade barriers in Finland for the packaging, flavors and distance sales of alcohol products, although alcohol is considered harmful to public health, and, unlike nicotine pouches, its use cannot be shown to have any kind of public health benefit.
Flavoring restrictions, in turn, would radically weaken the effectiveness of nicotine pouches in quitting smoking. For example, on the basis of research conducted among e-cigarette users, it is known that the majority of adult e-cigarette users, 80-90%, use other than so-called ”tobacco-flavored” liquids. By far the most popular flavors among the adult users are fruit and candy flavors.
Flavorings are also perceived as very important in terms of success in quitting smoking. This is due to the fact that the "tobacco taste" artificially produced in tobacco-free nicotine products does not match particularly well to the real taste of tobacco, and in addition, many smokers want to get rid of the tobacco-like taste after quitting smoking.
In addition, limiting flavorings to only "flavors intended for adults" is practically impossible by definition, because as the above-mentioned studies have shown, there is no significant age distribution in the use of different types of flavorings.
Flavorings are also important in nicotine pouches: around 90% of the nicotine pouch market consists of flavored products. Therefore, it is obvious that a strict limitation of flavors would practically collapse the legal nicotine pouch market in Finland and would correspondingly direct trade to the illegal channels.
Since nicotine pouches are also commonly used as a substitute for snus, it is most likely that the aforementioned restrictions for nicotine pouches also increase snus smuggling and illegal trade. This would mean a significant setback compared to the fact that the release of nicotine pouches on the Finnish market last spring quickly collapsed snus smuggling by 80 percent from before.
The situation is further aggravated by the fact that the government is simultaneously planning to reduce the legal import limit of snus by half. This is in stark contrast to the fact that the government itself admits that "snus ends up in Finland primarily through illegal imports". Therefore, it is not assumed that lowering the import limits would reduce the availability of snus in any significant way, but most likely it would only increase the smuggling and illegal trade of snus even more.
It would also be appropriate to consider why the legal availability of snus should be restricted even more strictly at the same time that combustible cigarettes are generally available in Finland. There is no rational basis for favoring the availability of the most harmful nicotine product over a much safer alternative. This also applies more generally to the ban on the sale of snus in the EU.
The same lack of sense of proportionality also applies to the Finnish government's proposed restrictions on nicotine pouches. High taxation, a ban on distance sales, restrictions on flavorings and plain packaging are measures that are disproportionate to the health effects of nicotine pouches compared to combustible cigarettes and unjustifiably prevent the free movement of goods in the EU internal market. They also significantly weaken the competitiveness of nicotine pouches compared to cigarettes. Thus, the regulatory measures in question paradoxically promote the market dominance of combustible cigarettes and maintain the most dangerous — and in Finland also by far the most popular — form of nicotine use: smoking.
Attached is our full response to the government's bill (in Finnish).