Norwegian Language Blog

Phillip Morris Sues Norway Posted by on Mar 16, 2010 in Culture, Norway and the world

Røyker du?  Do you smoke?  Get a load of this.

And just to forwarn you, if you are a smoker, I mean in no way to offend you.  I smoke occasionally myself.  Just informing you and commenting as objectively as I can on an issue.

On January 1, the Norwegian government banned the display of tobakk (tobacco) products in retail stores.  Out of sight, out of mind, right?  That’s the whole theory-if consumers don’t see the dozens of kinds of tobakk when they are at the counter purchasing their items, hopefully fewer impulse buys will result.  Iceland enforced a similar ban in 2001 and the numbers of smokers has gone down since.  Of course there is no proof that the reason for declining numbers of røykere is a result of the ban, but who’s to say it hasn’t?  So who is stepping in to argue this ban?  Only Phillip Morris International, the largest tobacco company in the world.

Phillip Morris Norway spokesperson, Anne Edwards, states that PMI has raised the issue with the Norwegian government with no success, so the company has chosen litigation.  So, to sum it up, Phillip Morris is taking Norway to court.  PMI argues that the ban on displaying tobacco products is unfair to consumers because they can’t see all of the available products.  Well, PMI, I think that’s the whole point.  Spokeswoman Edwards has also said that the ban restricts competition.  According to ‘The Foreigner’ online, Phillip Morris Norway’s lawyer, Jan Magne Juuhl-Langseth believes ”the veto contravenes Article 11 of the EEA agreement by limiting free movement of goods within the area.”  To that I would have to say that the free movement of goods is not being limited.  The goods are still there, they just aren’t staring you in the face saying ”røyk meg, røyk meg!”  Smoke me, smoke me!

You know, Bjoern-Inge Larsen, heads of the Norwegian Directorate of Health makes a good point-if PMI really thought that concealing tobacco products from consumers wasn’t going to have any affect on the number of røykere, then why would the company pursue legal action?  Why wouldn’t they just shrug their shoulders and say ”oh well, it’s not going to make a difference anyways.”  I think PMI is scared that the ban will have a negative impact on their sales.

The ban makes sense to me.  I’ll admit that if I see gum or chapstick-I guess they are my two vices at bensinstasjoner (gas stations) or apoteker (pharmacies)-I probably won’t even think about buying them.  But if I see them, I think to myself, “oh I’m almost out of gum” or “I lose my chapstick so often, I better buy a couple.”  Tobakk is definitely more physically addictive than gum or chapstick, so if I have the impulse buy problem with my vices (sad as they are), røykere (smokers) probably have a really hard time resisiting the urge to buy tobakk if they see it in front of them.

It will certainly be interesting to see what happens with this in court.  This case apparently raises some concerns and questions that have not previously been explored to this extent.  Stay tuned!

I think if tobacco packaging says in big bold letters that ‘smoking kills’ and people still choose to buy them and smoke them, it’s ok to keep them under the counter.

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About the Author: kari

I attended St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN, where I majored in Norwegian and History. During college, I spent almost a year living in Oslo, Norway, where I attended the University of Oslo and completed an internship at the United States Embassy. I have worked for Concordia Language Villages as a pre-K Norwegian teacher and have taught an adult Norwegian language class. Right now, I keep up by writing this Norwegian blog for Transparent Language. Please read and share your thoughts! I will be continuing this blog from my future residence in the Norwegian arctic!


  1. BM:

    Out in the wild, they’re not being kept “under the counter”, but behind big metal sheets that say “Tobakk” or “Snus”. Most of the time, the tobacco products are in the same place as they’ve always been, just with the new veils on top.

    At the Duty Free shop at Bergen airport, the tobacco products are kept in sort of filing cabinets and fridges with wood-panelled doors. Adds a bit of an office vibe.