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What a drag Iceland moves to make cigarettes prescription-only

A proposal to outlaw the sale of smokes in shops is on the table. Helen Pidd reports from Berlin.

A proposal to outlaw the sale of smokes in shops is on the table. Helen Pidd reports from Berlin.

ICELAND is considering banning the sale of cigarettes and making them a prescription-only product.

The parliament in Reykjavik is to debate a proposal that would outlaw the sale of cigarettes in normal shops. Only pharmacies would be allowed to dispense them initially to those aged 20 and over, and eventually only to those with a valid medical certificate.

The radical initiative is part of a 10-year plan that also aims to ban smoking in all public places, including pavements and parks, and in cars where children are present. Iceland also wants to follow Australia's lead by forcing tobacco manufacturers to sell cigarettes in plain, brown packaging.

Under the mooted law, doctors will be encouraged to help addicts kick the habit with treatments and education programs. If these do not work, they may prescribe cigarettes.

The private member's bill is sponsored by former health minister Siv Fridleifsdottir, who worked with the Icelandic Medical Association as well as a coalition of anti-tobacco groups to come up with the proposal.

"The aim is to protect children and youngsters and stop them from starting to smoke," she said. The proposal would initially result in an increase in cigarette prices, said Ms Fridleifsdottir, of "10 per cent per year, in line with World Health Organisation proposals evidence shows that a 10 per cent increase results in a 4-8 per cent reduction in consumption".

Thorarinn Gudnason, president of the Icelandic Society of Cardiology, who helped draw up the proposal, said current cigarette pricing in Iceland did not take into account the huge costs imposed on society by smokers.

"A packet currently costs around 1000 krona ($A8), but if you factor in the cost of sick leave, reduced productivity due to smoking breaks and premature retirement on health grounds, it should really be 3000 krona," he said.

The proposal also says that nicotine should be classed as an addictive substance. "It's as hard to give up nicotine as heroin, not in terms of the side effects, but in terms of the cravings and how quickly one becomes addicted," Dr Gudnason said.

"We also want the government to license cigarettes like a medicine, which would mean they would have to go through the same rigorous trials as any other drug.

"I doubt cigarettes would ever get on the market now that we know the side effects."


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