How popular are black market nicotine products in Scandinavian countries? In Part 2 of our series on Nordic nicotine use, Stefan Mathisson unpicks the complications that can arise when the booming popularity of novel nicotine products is confronted with a limited variety of available legal products.
This is part 2 of our interview with Stefan Mathisson, where we explore Scandinavian vaping
and smoking. If you haven't already watched it, go check our part 1 of this interview
on the GFN YouTube channel. There are countries around the world where vaping among young
people is very popular. What situation do you see in Scandinavian countries? Are vaping
products popular among young people? And do we see a problem with the numbers of young
people who vape?
Yes, that is a good question. I mean, disposable e-cigarettes, we need to talk about e-cigarettes
when it comes to young people. Disposables is the same thing. I mean, vaping has been
on a low, low, low scale. When it comes to regular vaping, as we know, it's 30 years.
Young people don't adapt to that. They don't like it. It's too difficult. Disposables,
on the other hand, are skyrocketing in popularity among young people. They really, really are.
And we've seen it in every country, basically in the world. No matter the flavor bands,
no matter what, disposable e-cigarettes are being sold to young people. And they get them
through buying, usually through a black market, or like an illegal market, at least. You can
buy them in stores, you can buy them everywhere. And they are, even though you have an 18 year
old limit, they will get the products somehow. And this is the case in Sweden as well. I
mean, use of e-cigarettes has gone up among young people. When you talk about 12 to 18
year olds, it has gone up. We haven't seen any really good statistics of it yet, but
we will probably see that. There are campaigns going to actually address this from the anti-vaping
movements as well. So yeah, same thing in Norway. I mean, e-cigarette use among young
people in Norway is going up. It hasn't rivaled snus use though. I talked to one of the most
prominent tobacco scientists in Norway, Carl-Erik Lund, just a couple of months ago. And I mean,
his research shows that, I mean, youths in Norway aren't smoking anymore. It's like below
1% are using cigarettes. They are using e-cigarettes disposables, which they shouldn't be able
to buy anyway. You can't buy nicotine containing vapes in Norway anyway, but they are buying
them. I think it was around, you know, coming up to 5%, something like that, that used e-cigarettes
and like 10% using snus. But the smoking is plummeting. In Denmark, I'm not too sure.
There are a bit more vapers in Denmark in general. I think they have a vaping population
of like 5% or something like that compared to other Nordic countries where we're like
2% of vaping. And among youth, I mean, yeah, it's a big, big market for disposable e-cigarettes
in Denmark as well. Mango flavoured e-cigarettes are popular in Denmark, even though they have
a flavour ban. And there's a big, big, big black market going on there as well.
You mentioned the black market and its popularity. Why has the influence of the black market
I think it is because disposable e-cigarettes are so easy to make and they're so easy to
market to anyone, anywhere. And I think our border controls, sales, online sales is available
in so many ways. And I think what it is, is that, for example, I mean, a general store
in Sweden or any country usually sells groceries, sells cigarettes or whatever. I mean, it's
very easy for a shady person who wants to sell products to approach a single business
owner and tell them, hey, you know, these are e-cigarettes. These are safe to use, they're
better than cigarettes. I can set you up with 100 of these and you can try to sell them
in your store, see what works. The store owner might say, well, is it legal? Yeah, it's legal.
That's what they get to know. And they don't bother checking with the government or anyone.
And they get like 100 e-cigarettes basically for free because they're very cheap. And they
sell them in the store. And maybe they don't even check for age or anything like that.
This is how the illegal market works, I think. I mean, through regular stores, legit stores
who are selling products that they don't really know that they cannot sell because they can
be e-cigarettes coming from, I mean, you can, anyone can go into a Chinese website or anything
and buy 100 disposable e-cigarettes for nothing, basically, and sell them for 10 times that
in the country. So the product itself is cheap to make, easy to sell. So, I mean, as long
as there's a demand for the product, they will sell them. I think that is what's happening,
kind of. And also you have a big sales through social media, especially to kids. And one
police officer I talked to here in Sweden just the other week who said, I think it was
very accurate. And this is kind of a universal thing. Kids are buying disposable e-cigarettes
through the same canals or channels that they will, that sells cannabis. It's kind of the
same way of selling drugs that these kids that buy e-cigarettes get into. And the police
officer wasn't worried about kids vaping. I mean, he said, I mean, he's my age, he's
my son. People are, kids have been smoking and doing shit for a long time. Smoking in
nicotine is not the real problem with kids, when they're kids. The problem he saw with
the disposable market was that they are buying, the structure of the sales is organized the
same way as the structure of sales of really bad illegal drugs. And I think cannabis is
the worst one, but they sell stuff as well, these people. So he said, the kids are getting
accustomed to this way of buying drugs. And that's not good. You don't want 12 year old
to know how to buy cocaine. I mean, that's kind of what he saw. So, and that's the blood
that that's the really big issue to handle. I think the black market that's going on like
that, they're making kids actually connect with criminals, basically, even though it's
not directly dangerous to buy e-cigarettes, but the environment is bad. And I think we
need to look at that and how to solve the black market. As you said, it's not hard to
follow the rules, but the rules are quite, aren't really up to date with what the market
really has to offer. I mean, it's disposable e-cigarettes with the, I mean, you have a
tank limit. You can only use them for 800 puffs, basically because of the tank size,
two milliliters is the TPD rule for tanks. The nicotine limit, of course, 20 milligrams,
it's a limit, you know? I mean, most of the e-cigarettes that you buy in the black market,
they have bigger tanks, bigger containers, they can last for 10,000 puffs. And you can
buy with a bigger battery, you can charge it as well. It's like no weird. Same goes
for the nicotine limit. I mean, most countries in the world have no limit on nicotine, so
you can get them in 50 milligrams to nicotine. So all of these things, it's kind of what
the products that are available and what the market are allowing is too big of a gap there.
So because of these regulations, people choose unregulated products instead?
I've talked to vape shop employees who every day, maybe 10 times a day, gets a question
from a customer who said, well, I know you have disposable e-cigarettes with 800 puffs,
but I saw that the general store over there, so there's 8,000 puffs. Why don't you have that?
And they try to explain, well, TPD rules and stuff like that. But okay, he says,
the customer goes away and buys illegal e-cigarettes. It's easy to get because,
yeah, and that says something about how we are regulating this product,
which is something for the EU to consider. I don't think they're going to change the rules,
but I think if they're going to sell the market, I mean, with the black market, you need to get
into what the problem is. Realize that you can't just regulate anything randomly like they've done
in the EU. You need to think about what you're regulating and look at what the market has offered.
Can we say that young people generally prefer disposable vapes and
adults prefer snus and nicotine punches? Or is this not the case?
Yes. Yeah, I'd say more young people are using the e-cigarettes than adult people. We know that
because I think young people have, it's easier for them to adapt to new technology.
So when we look at e-cigarette use among adults in Sweden, for example, I think it's the same in
other countries, it's quite low. I mean, 1 to 2%. We're always around there. I mean, snus use is
among males in Sweden is 20%. And also nicotine pouches, which is kind of snus, but it's more
pleasant among women is going up, up, up, especially among 25 to 40 year old ladies.
So, which is a very good thing because they were smokers before. So I'd say snus and nicotine
pouches are more attracted to older people, but they of course attract young people as well.
We just recently looked at how many young people are using nicotine pouches and it's
huge in Sweden as well, especially among women. So I think when it comes to young people
in countries in Sweden where snus is a thing, where you know, we are born with things under
our lips. I mean, I was 12 the first time I've tried a snus. I mean, it's like, that doesn't
happen in other countries, I think. So when it comes to pouches, nicotine pouches, which
doesn't contain tobacco, except in Norway, but they actually do contain the tobacco rules,
but the nicotine pouch is kind of, the way of using nicotine this way is common in Sweden,
also among youth. So I mean, yeah. And also nicotine pouches have been marketed relentlessly
because we didn't have any marketing rules for nicotine pouches until like August last year.
And I mean, the marketing has been harsh, really free samples and stuff like that
handed out to kids. I mean, of course they're going to use it. Tastes good. Nicotine is nice.
So yeah, we had a big, big, big surge in youth use when it comes to nicotine pouches as well.
So I don't know if it's a past e-cigarette use among youth, but it's there.
Thank you, Stefan, for your interesting summary. That's all for today. Tune in next time here on
GFN TV or on our GFN TV podcast. And don't forget to book your place at GFN23 to join
in the discussion yourself. Thanks for watching or listening. See you next time.