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How Will Norway's New Cigarette Law Affect Smokers?

Smoking in Norway just became a bit more complicated
Smoking in Norway just became a bit more complicated | © Irina Kostenich / Unsplash
One of the first countries in the world to ban smoking in public spaces, Norway keeps taking step after step towards becoming a tobacco-free country in the future. The latest development? Since July 1, all cigarette and snus packets are required by law to look completely alike. Here’s what you need to know about this new, neutral packaging and how it affects smokers and snusers.

What is the new law is about?

Cigarette packaging has gone through its share of changes over the last two decades. In 2004, it became illegal to advertize tobacco products in Norway, as well as to smoke in most public areas. In 2009, the Ministry of Health and Care Services issued a requirement for all cigarette packs to carry a pictorial health warning – something that came fully into force by 2011. There are 14 different pictorial warnings that rotate on both the front and the back of the packs, large enough to cover half of the pack. Snus packs are also required to carry warnings of course, but text ones. And that was more or less the case until July 1, 2018.

Because on July 1, a law that was first announced in 2017 just came into full force. This new law states that all cigarettes and snus packages in Norway have to be completely neutral and standardized from now on. A common color (metallic gold) and neutral white font were chosen to be applied to all packages — selling non-standardized packs is now illegal. Bjørn Guldvog, director general of the Norwegian Directorate of Health, sees the law as “an important step towards the long-term aim of a tobacco-free society”. According to him, protecting children and young people from tobacco is at the core of Norway’s tobacco politics.

The new, neutral packaging © Lise Åserud / NTB scanpix, Courtesy of The Local.no

The everyday effects of the new packaging

But does the change in packaging make a difference? Well, that depends who you ask. Cigarette sales have halved since 2007, with smokers currently making up only 11% of the population. Snus is actually more popular than smoking now (12% of the population), although companies are afraid that the new law about neutral packaging will harm their brands. In fact, a Swedish snus company called Match actually took out an injunction against Norway, trying to delay the neutral packaging being introduced – but lost.

As for how the law affects cigarette smokers and snusers, according to Linnea, 44, “it depends how long you’ve been smoking. I’ve been a smoker for twenty years, I know my brand of preference: changing the package won’t really demotivate me or make a difference. But if I was a teenager, just starting or considering to start smoking, I’d realize that cigarette packs don’t look cool anymore. I think that’s the main idea, to show new smokers that it’s actually uncool to buy cigarettes and snus”. Øyvind, 26, on the other hand, says that, “what actually makes me consider stopping smoking or snusing is the cost. A pack of cigarettes costs around 114 NOK (€12), a pack of snus around 70 NOK (€7,4). The graphic images on the cigarette packs actually bother me more than a neutral packaging, but mostly, it’s an expensive habit.”