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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.


0:00 - Intro with Joanna Junak
0:27 - Stefan Mathisson explores the Scandinavian approach to THR
3:38 - Rising influence of black market vapes
8:35 - Black market vapes outcompeting competition
9:42 - Swedish snus use remains high
12:09 - Closing remarks


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.