Iceland Considers Ending the Sale of Cigarettes

By Walter Armstrong and Dirk Hanson 07/11/11

Prescription smokes possible in this isolated euro country.

iceland smoker.jpg
Only 15% of Icelanders smoke.
Photo via thinkstockphotos

Iceland—a county where just 15% of the population lights up, the lowest in all of Europe, is seeking to crunch the number even further. The proposed plan to have their government license cigarettes as if they were medicine is just one piece of a much broader 10-year-plan aimed to ban smoking in all public places in the small country nestled in the middle of the northern Atlantic Ocean. That figures: Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland, is named after its local hot springs, and means, legend has it, Smoke Cove. But if former Icelandic health minister Siv Fridleifsdottir gets her way, the Icelandic Medical Association-backed proposal to ban the sale of cigarettes will become a reality. It will only work, she insists, if cigarettes are available by prescription for struggling addicts. The idea is that a blanket ban, with cigarette prescriptions for adult smokers who are quitting under a doctor’s care, would virtually eliminate the chance of children are young adults seriously taking up the smoking habit. In a small Northern European country like Iceland, maybe they can get away with it. The specter of a black market always looms over proposals of this kind. But this plan calls for a gradual phase-in, and would start by restricting cigarette sales pharmacies, “and eventually only to those with a valid medical certificate,” according to the UK Guardian. Shades of medical marijuana—if medical marijuana were being offered for marijuana addiction. Perhaps it is; we’re not up to date on the roster of acceptable indications.

In the past 20 years, Iceland has successfully slashed the number nicotine addicts in half. This can be attributed to a steep increase in taxes as well as a drastic dip in disposable income due to the financial collapse of 2008, according to the report. Another key part of the plan: Making prescription cigarettes cheaper than existing cigarettes. “Under our plan, smokers who are given prescriptions will be diagnosed as addicts, and we don’t thing the government should tax addicts,” said the president of the Icelandic Society of Cardiology. Kudos to Iceland for attempting to make their country a healthier place, but according to an Icelandic ministry of welfare spokesperson, Anna Baldursdottir, the bill has a slim chance of catching on with the majority in Parliament—where it will be debated this upcoming fall. “Whether or not it eventually becomes a law, I do not know, I seriously doubt it,” she says.

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