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Monday, July 4, 2011

What a drag … Iceland considers prescription-only cigarettes

Tobacco bill proposes outlawing sales, with only doctors allowed to prescribe cigarettes to addicts unable to kick habit

Iceland is considering banning the sale of cigarettes to help society 'wake up' to the dangers of smoking. Only 15% of the population light up regularly.

The parliament in Reykjavik is to debate a proposal that would outlaw the sale of cigarettes in supermarkets, service stations, duty-free shops and kiosks. Only pharmacies would be allowed to dispense cigarettes to customers with a valid medical certificate.

Under the mooted initiative, doctors will be encouraged to help addicts kick the habit with treatments and education programmes. If these do not work, only then they may give out prescriptions – and only to patients who commit to regular health checks.

Unlike other prescription products, cigarettes would not be subsidised, and would continue to be sold at their full market value, about 900kr (£4.90) in Iceland. But according to proponents of the bill, if each pack were priced according to the real cost of cigarettes to society (in healthcare, etc), they would actually retail at 3,000KR.

The private members bill is being led by the former health minister Siv Fridleifsdottir, who claims she has the support from members of five parties in parliament. She told the Frettabladid newspaper that society had to "wake up" once and for all to the well-known dangers of smoking.

A spokeswoman from the ministry of welfare said on Monday that the proposal was "very serious" but had limited chances of success. "Siv Frideleifsdottir is a very serious politician and this is a very serious proposal," said Anna Baldursdottir, political advisor to the minister of welfare, Gudbjartur Hannesson.
"Whether it not it eventually becomes law, I do not know. I seriously doubt it." The idea will be debated in the Althing, Iceland's parliament, in the autumn, when politicians return from recess,
she added.

Iceland has successfully halved smoking rates over the past 20 years. In 1991, 30% of the population smoked; today, only about 15% of 15- to 89-year-olds light up regularly, according to Baldursdottir, giving it the lowest smoking rates in Europe. This success is attributed to huge increases in tobacco tax, which accounts for 228kr a pack of 20 cigarettes, as well as the drop in disposable income among islanders since the financial crash of 2008. It was also the first country to ban tobacco advertising in shops.

As an isolated island, Iceland arguably stands a greater chance of success were they to introduce such draconian measures. With no neighbouring countries and rigid customs controls at ports and airports, it will be difficult for anyone to smuggle in contraband cigarettes.


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