Tough Love in Iceland

July 19th, 2011

The parliament in Reykjavik is considering a ban on cigarette sales in all shops, supermarkets, petrol stations and duty-free shops in airports, making it so they are only available to purchase at registered pharmacies. The move is part of a 10-year plan, that they hope will make people more aware of the dangers of smoking, while making it harder to start and more appealing to quit. Initially, cigarettes will only be sold to those aged 20 and up, but if things go as planned, a subscription from a doctor will be required. In doing so, doctors will have a chance to examine each person's level of addiction and speak to them about methods for quitting. Also, as part of the 10-year plan, the government aims to ban smoking in all public areas, including pavements and public parks, as well as inside of cars while children are present.

Iceland is not the only country looking to take radical steps to help their citizens stop smoking or deter them from starting. Beginning January 2012, the Australian government plans to ban logos, colors, branding and promotional text on all cigarette packaging. Instead, the packages will all be an olive-green, one that studies have shown to be the most unappealing color, accompanied by stomach-churning photos of the health damages causes by smoking. The packages will have the manufacturer's name and the product name, but all will be printed in a standard type. Expect legal action on part of the manufacturers to ensue. The FDA has also proposed the following mandatory packaging for cigarettes in the US.

The anti-smoking bill in Iceland was put forth by former health minister Siv Fridleifsdottir in cooperation with the Icelandic Medical Association and a number of anti-tobacco groups. Iceland has successfully reduced its smoking rates by 50% over the last 20 years, resulting in only 15% of the population smoking in 2011 – the lowest percentage in Europe. Much of their success is contributed to the huge tax increases on cigarettes and lowered expendable income after the financial crash of 2008. As part of the 10-year plan, the government plans to raise the price of cigarettes a further 10% each year, because as Fridleifsdottir pointed out, "evidence shows that a 10% increase results in a 4-8% decrease in consumption."

Thorarinn Gudnason, president of the Icelandic Society of Cardiology, argues that the current price of cigarettes is too low and does not take into account the price the nation pays to care for illnesses caused by smoking. "A packet currently cost around 1,000 krona [5.50 GBP/9.00 USD] but if you factor in the cost of sick leave, reduced productivity due to smoking breaks and premature retirement on health grounds, it should really be 3,000 krona" stated Gudnason. The bill will be debated in Iceland's parliament, the Althing, this autumn, so we'll just have to wait to see if Iceland will become an influential leader in anti-smoking acts in the years to come.

Click here for a breakdown of current smoking bans worldwide.  

Caroline Engel for Danish Teak Classics

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