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HEALTH

EU rules dampen Danish government plan to ban future cigarette sales

A government proposal to curtail future cigarette sales by permanently banning anyone born after 2010 from buying them looks unlikely to be passed into law due to EU rules.

a cigarette
A Danish government plan to implement a future ban on purchasing cigarettes for persons born after 2010 faces an obstacle in the form of an EU directive. Photo by Andres Siimon on Unsplash

The government last month unveiled plans to ensure that future generations are tobacco-free by banning the sale of cigarettes and other nicotine products to anyone born after 2010.

People under 18 are not legally allowed to purchase cigarettes under current Danish laws, so although the ban would not have an effect for six years, it would prevent people born after 2010 from ever buying cigarettes.

But the Danish plan now looks unlikely in its current form because EU member states may not forbid the sale of tobacco, according to a response given to a parliamentary question by the health minister, Magnus Heunicke.

“It is based on this that the Ministry of Health concludes that a ban on sales of nicotine or tobacco products to persons born after 2010 or later would require a change to the (EU) tobacco directive,” Heunicke said.

The minister said in comments to news wire Ritzau that he had been aware of “legal obstacles” to the proposal at the time it was presented by the government.

“Of course we need a majority in parliament, but there’s also the tobacco directive,” he said.

“As the rules are now, we could introduce it and roll it out until 2035. But after that the tobacco directive would have to be changed for us to continue the rules,” he said.

At the time of its presentation, the government proposal was met with criticism because it could result in a future situation in which, for example, a 29-year-old would be banned from buying cigarettes while a 30-year-old could buy them, due to each individual’s year of birth.

Heunicke said he did not see that situation as a strong argument against the proposal.

“We have different age limits under current rules, some are 15 and 16 years and others are 17 and 18 years. We’d be able to manage it. The aim is that the 29-year-old would not want to buy cigarettes because the person in question has not become addicted,” he said.

The minister said the government had not given up hope of implementing the rule in future despite the limitations currently presented by EU rules.

“We fully recognise that there are both domestic politics and EU politics that must be change, but that’s why we’re in politics. It’s to change some rules,” he said.

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HEALTH

How will Denmark’s health reform change country’s health services?

Junior doctors will spend more time in general practice during their training and 25 new local hospitals will be opened under a new health sector reform announced on Friday.

How will Denmark's health reform change country’s health services?

An agreement for the reform was presented by the government on Friday with the backing of a parliamentary majority.

The deal had been delayed with the Covid-19 crisis among the obstacles which drew out its completion.

It provides for 6.8 billion kroner of spending on the Danish health service over the next eight years, Health Minister Magnus Heunicke told media on Friday.

“We have an agreement for a health reform that will support local health services. Many parties are with us. (The deal) could not have broader support,” he said.

Parties on both sides of Denmark’s political aisle are in agreement over the deal, with Martin Geertsen, health spokesperson with the opposition Liberal (Venstre) party, calling it “a good little deal”.

“Does this agreement solve all the challenges faced by the Danish health service going forward? No. Certainly not. It’s a good little deal. It’s a step in the right direction,” Geertsen said.

The health spokesperson with the left-wing party Red Green Alliance, Peder Hvelplund, likewise characterised the reform as a small but positive step that does not solve all of the problems within the health system currently.

In an earlier version of the deal, proposed by the governing Social Democrats, up to 20 local hospitals – around the size of extended, large health centres – were proposed. The location of the centres that will be opened or built under the reform is not clear at the current time.

The new, local centres could potentially be located in former hospital premises.

The government also proposed a form of compulsory service which junior doctors would have to complete as part of their training, involving working for an experience GP. This will be undertaken as part of doctors’ studies under the terms of the reform.

This means that young doctors will spend an extra six months working at GP surgeries and spend less time at hospitals.

Earlier health proposals by the government related to additional restrictions on tobacco and alcohol sales do not form part of the agreement announced on Friday.

Negotiations over those proposals will take place separately, Heunicke said.

“Next week we will open negotiations on the remaining elements relating to prevention (of smoking and excessive alcohol consumption). It was the right thing to do to split things up because we got this broadly-supported agreement,” he said.

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