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In Iceland, Cigarettes to Become Prescription Only Drug

Politicians in Iceland are set to debate a law that would make cigarettes available only with a doctor’s prescription.

Under the terms of a proposed new law introduced by the former minister of health, Siv Fridleifsdottir:

  • Only smokers aged 20 and older would be allowed to buy cigarettes
  • Cigarettes would be sold only in pharmacies. Eventually, only smokers with a doctor’s certificate would be able to buy cigarettes
  • Doctors would work with smokers to help them break free from their habit. Those that cannot or will not stop, would be granted a medical license to purchase nicotine.
  • Cigarette costs would increase by 10% initially (which according to the WHO, should lead to a 4% to 8% decline in smoking rates) but eventually, once cigarettes were available by prescription only, prices would drop down below current prices.

President of the Icelandic Society of Cardiology, Thorarinn Gudnason, helped draft the proposed law. Commenting on the plan to eventually reduce the price of cigarettes, he explained, “Under our plan, smokers who are given prescriptions will be diagnosed as addicts, and we don't think the government should tax addicts."

Price increases and reduced disposable income after the nation’s economic crash are credited with cutting smoking rates from 30% in 1991 to 15% today – which is one of the lowest smoking rates in Europe. Other measures already in place to further reduce smoking rates over the next 10 years include a coming ban on smoking in all public places and in cars carrying children.

The proposed law is backed by the Icelandic Medical Association and various anti-tobacco groups. At present, 20% of deaths in Iceland are attributable to smoking, a figure that health experts think they can reduce by two thirds with tough anti smoking measures.

In other international anti-tobacco efforts:

  • Surgeons in Sweden already refuse to perform operations on smokers who will not quit, citing smoking’s detrimental effect on the recovery process.
  • Bhutan has completely banned smoking
  • Costa Ricans can be arrested for smoking in their own homes, should the second hand smoke bother family members

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