Snus in Finland, a brief follow-up

by Carl V Phillips

A few days ago, I mentioned (buried in a longer analysis of another topic) Brad Rodu’s post that reported an estimate of the additional smoking in Finland caused by the EU snus ban. A recent news article (h/t SnusCentral; note that I have not been able to find a more complete source for the results that are reported) reports that personal importation of snus into Finland has increased remarkably in the last year. This is seriously good news for THR in more ways than one.

The obvious good news is that this suggests that more THR is happening. While this does not affect the results that Rodu reported on (they were based on the reduced decrease in the smoking rate after the snus ban hit Finland in 1995, as compared to Sweden, as observed in the past), it might change the future. It also suggests that perhaps people are actively engaging in THR switching, rather than just continuing established snus use (which would still be good if that were all it was, of course, since the alternative for many would be switching to the legal alternative, cigarettes). The trend suggests that there might be new users who are choosing snus over cigarettes, or that some of those who switched to smoking are switching back.

It is possible that the personal imports are just replacing existing black market sales, of course, or “imports” from Finland’s semi-autonomous island of Aland (a port of call for many ferries) where snus sales remain legal [correction: it is actually on the ferries themselves where the sales are legal — see comment]. But the article does mention (without statistics) that snus use decreased after the ban but is increasing again, and that personal cigarette imports are decreasing. Assuming “carton” in the story means one tin of snus, the reported volume of these imports would allow about 1% of the Finnish population to be regular snus users, and almost a third of that is the increase over the last year. Not as impressive as the THR in Sweden, obviously, but it is still good news compared to nothing at all.

Additional good news can be found in the grousing of the Finnish official who is quoted, who notes that only imports for personal use are legal. The article reported that 40% of those importing snus admitted to the researchers they were bringing it in for others. This suggests a willingness to flout this terrible and unethical law, which bodes well for people facing THR bans elsewhere.

9 responses to “Snus in Finland, a brief follow-up

  1. The sales of snus in Finland is banned also in Åland, because it is a part of Finland, but the sales in ferries entering to Sweden is allowed when the ferry is inside Swedish border. Currently the legal limit for personal import is 30 cartons (30x50g). The sales in those ferries is tax free since Åland is a tax free zone, like Canal Islands, and that’s why ferries stops at Åland. The import limit was dropped from 100 cartons to 30 at 2012.

    Use of snus has been very popular in team sports players like players of ice hockey and it still is despite anti snus propaganda which is very active. That propaganda includes usual ANTZ fear mongering about snus causing cancer and teeth loss etc.

    Black market import occurs at northern part of Finland where Finland has land border with Sweden and just few meters after the border there are huge dedicated snus shops for Finnish customers (Haaparanta/Haparand)

    The official atmosphere of snus and e-cig use is very quit-or-die style and the authorities are doing their best to ban both snus and e-cigs from Finland. The Ministry of social affairs and health has even announced they don’t want to allow products based harm reduction into market. Meanwhile they believe Finland will be smoke free by 2030!

    Anecdotal officers from the police and border guard who are using snus very well knows were to buy black market snus but they are not closing actively those sources because they don’t like to kill they suppliers.

    Official tobacco and snus use statistics:
    See appendix table 19 for snus use.

    • Carl V Phillips

      Thanks for the clarification on Aland — correction added to the text — as well as the additional information and the reference. The table shows a good trend for some of the period since the ban (in relative terms), though absolute rates are still well below smokeless tobacco use in the USA, to say nothing of Sweden of course. Still, not too bad given the ban.

      The news story mentioned that 1/3 of travelers who were importing brought in more than 30 cartons. Now I understand the significance of that observation.

      Too bad about the all-out war on THR. It sounds like it is about as bad there as anywhere in the world.

  2. “The Ministry of social affairs and health has even announced they don’t want to allow products based harm reduction into market”
    This beggars belief!

    • Carl V Phillips

      Yeah, it is nuts. Aren’t you glad you don’t live in Finland. Or Australia. Or New Zealand. Or Canada. Or Russia. Or Turkey.

      I was tempted to add “Or the UK” to the list — it is not quite that bad there. The USA is not too far ahead. It is just totally insane what passes for ethics and leadership in this world.

      • Well, we manage :)

        The Big Pharma has so much power in decision making related to quit smoking policy so that is the result. Harm reduction does not fit into their scope.

        What comes to e-cigs we can import, after court ruling, e-liquids containing nicotine for 3 months personal use from EU-area in single order. No-one has defined what that amount is. Finnish medical authority FIMEA ruled before court decision that the import limit is 420mg / order, which is not much.

        Hardware and non-nicotine liquid sales is allowed. This has lead to widely DIY approach by vapers in Finland: we order nicotine bases from EU and concentrates from Finland and we are making our own liquids. Many has stock piled nicotine bases for years due to upcoming EU’s TPD regulations.

        The EU’s TPD will be challenged by UK based e-cig company Totally Wicked in next autumn. See their press release:

        • Carl V Phillips

          Do you have anything more concrete about the DIY practices and prevalence (or would you just be willing to write me a longer narrative based on your observations or answer some follow-up questions)? I am working on a paper that this would be a great addition to. Thanks.

    “The drop in smoking also shows that concerns that the use of electronic cigarettes would lead to a re-normalisation of tobacco use appear unfounded. The rapid increase in use of these products has coincided with a consistent steady decline in smoking.”

  4. National institute for health and welfare of Finland published today (9.10.2014) study about snus and tobacco use among youths in Finland. They are worried about increasing dual use of both tobacco and snus and recommend especially to pay attention to reduce snus use among youths. So they are more concern about snus use among youths than smoking! Use of snus among girls is very low.

    Since this abstract is currently only available in Finnish here is short vocabulary

    Link to abstract:

    Table 1. Use of tobacco and snus among youths age 14-15, P=boys, T=girls, Pojat=boys, tytöt=girls
    Päivittäin vain savukkeita = daily, only cigarettes
    Päivittäin vain nuuskaa = daily, only snus
    Päivittäin sekä nuuskaa että savukkeita = daily both cigarettes and snus
    Päivittäin savukkeita, nuuskaa satunnaisesti = daily cigarettes and occassionally snus
    Päivittäin nuuskaa, savukkeita satunnaisesti = daily snus and occasionally cigarettes
    Satunnaisesti vain savukkeita = occasionally only cigarettes
    Satunnaisesti vain nuuskaa = occasionally only snus
    Ei lainkaan savukkeita eikä nuuskaa = no cigarettes or snus

    Table 2 High school students age 16-19
    Table 3 Vocational school age 16-19

    Kuvio1 = Graph 1
    POJAT Ei lainkaan savukkeita eikä nuuskaa = Boys no cigarette or snus
    POJAT Vain savukkeita nykyisin = Boys only cigarette
    POJAT Vain nuuskaa nykyisin = Boys only snus
    POJAT Molempia nykyisin = Boys currently both

    TYTÖT Ei lainkaan savukkeita eikä nuuskaa = Girls no cigarette or snus
    TYTÖT Vain savukkeita nykyisin = Girls only cigarette
    TYTÖT Vain nuuskaa nykyisin = Girls only snus
    TYTÖT Molempia nykyisin = Girls currently both

    Yläkoulu = students age 13-15
    Lukio = High school age 16-19
    Ammatillinen oppilaitos = Vocational school age 16-19

    Briefly about Finnish school system: mandatory school for every children ends at age 16. Those youths who are planning academic career goes to lukio (high school) and others go to vocational school which leads to labor professions.

  5. Jonathan Bagley

    Jari, your comment about snus being popular among ice hockey players reminded me this was one of the reasons WADA was considering classifying nicotine as a performance enhancing drug. I think they’ve now thought better of it.

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