Expats settling in Denmark are often baffled when they discover how much a packet of cigarettes costs.
At just 40-45 kroner, it is considerably cheaper than a pint of beer in most city bars and less than half the price found in countries such as Norway, the UK and Ireland.
The politicians have been slow to address the disparity, citing concerns about making it more expensive for ordinary working folk, arguing that even more would buy their tobacco abroad in countries like Germany.
But during campaigning for the 2019 General Election, the price of cigarettes became a serious issue – particularly because recent figures have shown that the number of smokers is increasing, completely bucking the downward trend seen in all the other Nordic countries, and more young people are taking up the habit.
At the final televised election debate on June 3, every single party leader agreed the prices should rise. While Dansk Folkeparti cautioned a 10 percent rise – most probably with their pensioner supporters in mind – Radikale went as far as saying they should be doubled.
Nevertheless, Socialdemokratiet leader Mette Frederiksen, the PM elect, refused to say how much they should rise by.
Progress then complacency
The political interest is good news for those who want to see the price increased and have previously been surprised by the lack of interest in Christiansborg.
“We don’t have an exact explanation for the lack of interest,” noted Niels Them Kjær, the project manager at the Kræftens Bekæmpelse cancer society.
“One explanation is that from 2000 to 2007 there was a lot of political focus on smoking habits in Denmark. Then the focus changed and the development stopped. For around two years there was stabilisation, and now we are seeing a small increase in the prevalence of smokers, so it’s natural, actually.”
Overall, Kjær contends that the politicians have been far too wary of more people going abroad to buy their tobacco products.
“There has always been a huge discussion around cross-border trade – the politicians are scared that more Danes will go to Germany if they increase the price,” he said.
Cost a key factor
Ada from Copenhagen has been smoking since she was ten years old. Now 17, she is addicted to cigarettes and says that about 75 percent of her teenage friends smoke as well. She originally began to smoke out of curiosity as both her parents are regular smokers.
“My parents smoke and I was curious about it and then I started smoking,” Ada said. “I think I would have started later [if my parents didn’t smoke].”
Ada’s friend, 17-year-old Kieran, believes he would be less likely to spend his money on cigarettes if the prices were to go up, claiming that he would probably spend his money elsewhere.
“Oh, it would affect me,” Kieran said. “I would be able to afford it, but I wouldn’t buy them anymore.”
Kjær concurs that fewer youngsters would smoke.
“If we could have an increase of, for instance 50 percent, then we’ll see a huge decrease – especially among young people who smoke,” he said.
“For middle-aged people who have smoked for 25 years – they don’t easily change their habits because of the addiction. But teenagers – they very easily change habits because they’re not addicted to nicotine yet, so they will spend their money on something else, I hope.”
In contrast, in most western countries the number of smokers is falling, and it is no coincidence to note that many of them have much higher cigarette prices.
Currently the price of a pack of 20 is about 5.90 euros (43 kroner) in Denmark – significantly cheaper that the likes of the United States (6.00 euros), UK (10.59 euros), Norway (11.40 euros) and Ireland (12.70 euros).
In Norway, according to Kjær, the problem of young people has been “more or less solved” by the increase.
Only 3 percent of Norwegians aged 16-25 smoke, compared to 16 percent in Denmark, he contends.
“We have five times more young adult smokers in Denmark compared to Norway,” he said.
“So if we do it like Norway, we can stop it.”
Smoking to be cool
Conversely, though, Norway could also be partly to blame for the recent increase in the number of teenage smokers in Denmark.
CPH POST spoke to a group of young teens in the city district of Vesterbro, and they cited the immense popularity of a Norwegian TV show as a reason for why many of their peers are smoking.
“I think people think it’s cool because they see it on TV shows like ‘Skam’,” said Clara, 14, who does not think there is a single person in her class who does not watch the web series, which made its debut in September 2015.
An infinitely higher proportion of characters smoke in the show than the 3 percent of Norwegian teens cited by Kjær.
“It’s even shown to us in class as part of our education,” added Karla, 15.
As a Norwegian show about school children facing similar challenges to those faced by Danes, ‘Skam’ really resonates with the teens.
“‘Skam’ is more realistic than similar American shows in which things happen that couldn’t possibly happen in real life,” continued Karla.
“In ‘Skam’ the characters face real-life problems we can all relate to.”