Case study: learning from the Finnish experience in tobacco control

WHO/Malin Bring

Finland is globally and within the WHO European Region one of the forerunners in tobacco control and is therefore well prepared to face new challenges which are emerging in the country, especially among young Finns.

Legislation: the foundation for everything

“One of our most important lessons learned in tobacco control is the fact that legislation is the foundation for everything,” says Mr Paaso, Director of the Department for Wellbeing and Services at the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. “Strong tobacco control legislation will help achieve political consensus, which is essential to take further measures.”

In addition to other legislative measures to restrict the sale and use of tobacco products, Finland has one of the strictest regulations in the Region to control e-cigarettes.

“Much too often we only think of the traditional cigarette products when we think of tobacco control. However, for example, in Finland e-cigarettes and snus, a powder tobacco product usually consumed by placing it in the mouth, are our biggest challenges now, especially among young people. Teenagers hardly smoke cigarettes anymore, but using snus or e-cigarettes is becoming more common,” says Kari Paaso, who is also Vice-President and Representative of the WHO European Region at the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) Bureau of the Conference of Parties.

High-level commitment to fighting noncommunicable diseases

Tobacco control is a crucial part of Finland’s broader efforts to stop the rise of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). “In NCD prevention, tobacco control is the only area in which we can use a legal framework to bring an end to the use of tobacco products,” says Mr Paaso. “The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is a remarkable achievement.”

In May 2018, Finland started its 3-year term as a member of the WHO Executive Board. The prevention and management of NCDs is one of the priority areas for Finland’s global health diplomacy work.

“Scaling up action on NCDs globally is important,” says Ms Outi Kuivasniemi, Deputy Director for International Affairs at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. “Our commitment to NCDs continues at the highest political level. President Sauli Niinistö is co-chairing the WHO Independent High-Level Commission on NCDs, and our Minister of Social Affairs and Health, Pirkko Mattila, is one of the commissioners. We hope that the Commission will succeed in bringing forward both new and innovative recommendations and making proposals on improved implementation of the existing ones. Increased action is needed to help countries tackle this common challenge to well-being and productivity.”

World No Tobacco Day

World No Tobacco Day is celebrated every year on 31 May. This year the campaign focuses on tobacco as a major risk factor for cardiovascular diseases and stroke, the world’s leading causes of death.

About the WHO FCTC

The WHO FCTC provides a global response to a global problem – namely, the tobacco epidemic. It is an evidence-based treaty that reaffirms all people's right to the highest standard of health. The FCTC is a milestone in the promotion of public health and provides new legal dimensions for international health cooperation.

As of May 2018, 50 out of the 53 countries in the Region have signed the FCTC. In the past years, great progress has been made in the Region towards implementing the FCTC, but even countries with some of the most encouraging results in tobacco control have to keep up their efforts to meet new challenges.