The Finnish Parliament has on 16 March 2022 approved a bill (HE 141/2021) to renew the Finnish Tobacco Act (594/2016, as amended), aiming to reduce smoking and specify some provisions of the current Tobacco Act. The amended Act will, inter alia, ban smoking in playgrounds and public beaches during summertime, harmonize and simplify tobacco product packaging as well as ban products which purpose is to give a certain flavor or aroma to tobacco products. Along with these changes, a supervisory fee will be collected from tobacco product manufacturers and importers. We provide a short summary on the key changes below.
Originally, the renewed Tobacco Act was expected to come into force on 1 January 2022. However, due to delays in the lawmaking process, the law will come into force later this spring once ratified, with some transitional provisions coming into force at a later stage. For instance, provisions regarding harmonization of tobacco products and their packaging come into force only on 1 May 2023 from which date the sale of aroma- and flavor-creating products are also banned.
The Act was previously amended in August 2016 when among others new health warnings on tobacco product packaging, including both pictures and text, were introduced. Further, the amendment included removing tobacco substitutes from store shelves, making them available on request only.
Harmonized tobacco products and plain packaging
To prevent promotion of tobacco products, the amended Act will harmonize and simplify all tobacco product packaging to only include mandatory information as set out in the Tobacco Act. This means that all logos, figures and other design elements will be banned, aligning the layout of all tobacco products regardless of their manufacturer. The ban will apply also to liquid nicotine and other similar products. In a similar vein, all such elements will also be banned from the tobacco products themselves, preventing the possibility to transfer marketing into the exterior of tobacco products.
Corresponding rules on plain packaging on tobacco products are already in force in several other European countries, including the UK, Ireland, France, Hungary, Slovenia, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark. In Israel, the regulation also applies to electronic cigarettes. In many of the countries mentioned above, the rules also apply to the exterior of the tobacco product itself.
Ban of flavor-creating and aroma-creating products
The amended Act will also ban all products which purpose is to give a certain flavor or aroma to tobacco products. This includes, e.g. flavor cards that are intended to be used in cigarette packs to flavor the cigarettes. Other such products include but are not limited to flavor liquids and sprays as well as flavor capsules and flavored filters.
New supervisory fee introduced
A supervisory fee that will be collected from all tobacco manufacturers and importers by Valvira, the National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health is also introduced. The fee will vary between EUR 300 and EUR 70.000 based on the amount of tobacco products sold by a company annually. The fee will be used to cover costs created by tobacco product supervision.
Summary of practical implications
For businesses in the tobacco industry, the amended Tobacco Act will create a clearly more constrained business environment, especially in terms of clear limitations in the right to use their brands, logos and designs. The packaging as well as the exterior of products will have to be harmonized and simplified in a way that aims to prevent any sales promotion through packaging and product design. From an IPR perspective the plain packaging rule is indeed a drastic measure in practice depriving brand owners of their Intellectual Property. The fact that the amended Act will prohibit products which purpose is to create a flavor or aroma when used in combination with tobacco products might lead to the exclusion of certain businesses from the Finnish market. The new supervisory fee to be collected by Valvira will further lead to a certain cost increase for tobacco manufacturers and importers.