Update: Finland is the Worst Country in the EU for Vaping
Finland e-cig laws have become so intricate and all-encompassing, that, in 2017, Nanny State Index ranked Finland as the number 1 worst country to vape in the European Union. For years, Finland enacted a staunch, yet confusing, set of regulations for the e-cigarette industry that left vapers in limbo as to where to legally purchase their supplies. Up until late 2016, e-liquid containing nicotine was prohibited from being sold in Finnish stores, as it was considered a medication under the Medicines Act.
While being able to purchase e-liquids with nicotine in a vape shop sounds like regulatory problems are over, Finland e-cig laws not only added a €0.30/ml tax to all e-liquids, but also takes a page from the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive(TPD), and only permits one flavor of e-liquids, tobacco, to be sold in stores. Along with the TPD’s flavoring regulations that have been adapted in Finland, other areas of the TPD that are being enforced include banning smoking/vaping in cars with children under the age of 15, requiring that tobacco product packaging consists of 65% health warnings, and banning the use of tobacco products in outdoor spaces, which includes balconies of apartments and condos.
Finland E-Cig Laws are…Fishy
If you’re confused about e-cig laws in Finland, you’re not the only one. Finland has what we call a two-tier system, meaning that e-cig products containing nicotine and those that do not are treated differently under the law. No laws currently explicitly address e-cigs without nicotine, but any product containing nicotine is classified as a medication and falls under the regulations set by the Medicines Act. In practice, this means the sale of nicotine cartridges is illegal in Finland because no e-cig product has been granted approval by Finland’s government.
Fortunately, Finnish citizens may legally import e-liquid cartridges that hold less than 10mg/ml of nicotine from other countries. If the exporting country is within the European Economic Area, citizens may purchase and possess up to a one-year supply of e-liquid with nicotine. E-cig purchases from countries outside the EEA are restricted to three-month supplies. Anyone who wishes to buy and possess more than the established limit must obtain a prescription for nicotine from a doctor.
Who is the Finnish government to decide how much e-liquid is a year’s supply? Having options in nicotine content is an essential part of e-cigs’s appeal and better entices smokers to quit using tobacco. Instead of making is easier for smokers to access a less harmful alternative, the Finnish government imposes harsh fines and potential jail time on e-cig users who are trying to get healthier.
About 15 million people across the globe currently use e-cigs, and evidence is growing that e-cigs may pose a serious threat to the tobacco industry, the smoking cessation market and, consequently, government tax dollars derived from those products. Research is ongoing, but early studies have found that e-cigs with nicotine can help smokers give up tobacco for good, which can potentially save their lives. Millions of people die or become sick every year from illnesses caused by tobacco.
Nonetheless, national surveys about e-cig use have demonstrated that e-liquids with nicotine are easy to come by on the black market in Finland. A study published by the School of Health Sciences at the University of Tampere found that about 20 percent of Finnish 12-18 year-olds have tried e-cigs with nicotine. Obviously, something needs to be done to address the accessibility of these products to youth, but criminalizing them for adults is only punishing people who are trying to quit smoking.
In 2012, the Finnish National Supervisory Authority of Welfare and Health extended restrictions on tobacco advertising to also cover e-cig marketing. This means that packaging and advertisements cannot contain images or prices. The service industry is embracing the anti-e-cig hysteria; major Finnish companies like the National Railway are forcing e-cig users to vape in existing designated “smoking” areas. The irony is that most e-cig users turned to e-cigs to get away from tobacco smoke and the harmful constituents therein, yet, if they want to vape their e-cigs, they must continue to inhale the secondhand smoke generated by those smoking conventional, harmful cigarettes.
It’s unclear how the European Union’s Tobacco Products Directive will impact Finland. Given that most Finnish vapers import their products from abroad and that the TPD will tighten regulations throughout Europe, it is likely that obtaining e-cigs will become even more difficult. However, there is a bit of uncertainty since the E.U. Parliament in Strasbourg voted to reject the wholesale medicalization of e-cigs in Europe in favor of treating e-cigs as consumer goods. Other national courts within the E.U. have struck down attempts to medicalize e-cigs, so there’s always a chance that a challenge in Finnish courts could change things.
Of course, the E.U.’s decision to hold e-cigs to the same standards as tobacco cigarettes is equally problematic, so even if nicotine refills eventually don’t require a prescription in Finland, the government can set limits on nicotine content and impose stronger labeling requirements. This is obviously highly restrictive and a potential negative public health impact since emerging science is demonstrating that e-cigs have the potential to reduce the harm caused by cigarettes. What’s worse, it deters smokers from trying an alternative that could help save their lives. As e-cig laws continue to evolve, the global vaping community must stay educated and vocal to protect our rights and our health.