The recent development on rules for nicotine pouches in the Finnish market has turned into a somewhat confusing and uncertain situation. While previously having one of the strictest abolishment strategies and even banning private imports under sanctions of large fines and even imprisonment, the Finnish market is now more or less unregulated while waiting for new rules to be put in place.
This article explores the factors that triggered this sudden shift and provides insights into the anticipated future developments.


Previous Regulations and Surprising Changes:
Previously, Finland banned the sale of nicotine pouches with a nicotine content exceeding 4mg without a doctor’s prescription. This means that they were regulated by Fimea which is the national authority in Finland operating under the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health responsible for regulating and overseeing the safety, efficacy, and quality of medicines and medical devices. On the 4th of April, in what has been described as a complete surprise to everyone including the ministry, Fimea stated that nicotine pouches no longer routinely can be classified as medicinal products unless they are specifically marketed for a medicinal purpose or it can be proven in some other way that they are typically used like medicinal products.


Immediate Impact and Indications of Black Market for Nicotine Pouches
Following this reclassification, customs immediately ceased supervision of nicotine pouch imports. Finnish media reported about entrepreneurs immediately experiencing a fifteenfold increase in demand and Teemu Rissanen, CEO of R-kioski, a well-known convenience store chain in Finland, highlighted that the number of nicotine pouches sold at kiosks indicates that the products have already been used during stricter regulation. Consequently, there has been a large demand and a black market that had emerged due to this unmet demand.
Rissanen is quoted in Helsingi Saanomat stating that nicotine pouches could generate tax revenue of more than EUR 100 million and that a regulation (rather than a ban) could allow recovering money that previously flowed to neighboring countries back to Finland.
This could have been a major victory for Finnish smokers that now had access to an alternative to cigarettes that is evidently welcome by consumers but it seems it is too early to claim Finland is even trying an tobacco harm reduction scheme.


Exercise of Authority vs. Political Overreach
When Fimea went public with their assessment that nicotine pouches are not a medicinal product and should not be regulated as one, this triggered several reactions. Tukes, the Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency that is responsible for regulating and supervising safety and chemicals-related matters, communicated plans on putting a temporary cap on nicotine content that according to Helsingi Sanomaat would be around 16,7mg nicotine. This would be a limit set from the perspective of nicotine as a chemical and its possible health effect. In effect it would not limit almost any product from major brands while removing extreme products from the market.
The ministry of Ministry of Social Affairs and Health on the other hand took no notice of the more balanced actions from the authorities and started working on an amendment to the Tobacco Act that would make nicotine pouches comparable to traditional snus and thus outright banned. The ban on snus was imposed by the EU 1992 due to health concerns and because it was believed that snus would be a gateway to smoking. Even though statistics now clearly show that countries where snus is used both have the lowest percentage of daily smokers and significantly lower prevalence of tobacco related diseases the Ministry wants to treat nicotine pouches in the same way.


Political Shift and Future Outlook
Adding to the uncertainty, the recent Finnish election led to a shift in majorities, with the new Prime Minister Petteri Orpo expected to form a new government in the coming weeks. The government’s stance on the issue remains unclear.
What has been proposed by the authorities, even if unintentionally and not as an expression of a position, could be a reasonable foundation for a regulation. The near future will determine whether Finland chooses to ban the least harmful nicotine product available or provide a regulatory framework for it.
NNPA and pouchforum.eu argue in favour of purposeful regulation, including a balanced nicotine content cap, a ban on sales and marketing to minors, and clear labelling requirements. Such regulation would benefit hundreds of thousands of Finnish smokers seeking a less harmful alternative, preventing their reliance on the established black market or resorting to more harmful alternatives than nicotine pouches.

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