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Finland: Parliament Approves New Alcohol Law

(Dec. 29, 2017) On December 15, 2017, the Finnish Parliament (Eduskunta/Riksdagen) approved a new Alcohol Act to take effect on January 1, 2018. Under the new provisions, the limit on alcohol content in drinks that may be sold in grocery stores will be increased from 4.7% to 5.5%.  (Press Release, Eduskunta/Riksdagen, Alkohollagen godkänd [Alcohol Act Approved] (Dec. 15 2017); Regeringens proposition till riksdagen med förslag till alkohollag och vissa lagar som har samband med den [Government Proposition to the Parliament with Proposals on the Alcohol Act and Certain Laws Associated with It], Regeringens Proposition [RP] 100/2017 rd [Government Bill], Eduskunta/Riksdagen website (last visited Dec. 22, 2017).)

Previously, drinks with alcohol content above 4.7% could be sold only at an Alko (a state store). With the limit raised to 5.5%, drinks such as alcoholic sodas and flavored beers may be sold in grocery stores and specialty shops.  (Id.)

History of Alcohol Legislation in Finland

Finland had alcohol prohibition legislation in force from 1919 to 1932. (5-4-3-2-1-0: History of Alko, Alko website (last visited Dec. 19, 2017).) The state-owned distributor of alcohol, Alko, was founded after the prohibition ended and was given a monopoly on alcohol sales.  Alko shops were set up only in cities; there were none set up in rural areas until 1969.  (RP 100/2017 rd, supra, at 7.)  The provision to limit sales to alcohol content of 4.7% or less has been in force since 1969.  (Id.)  An increase in alcohol consumption has occurred due to a reduction in the cost of drinks and their more ready availability, which took place as a result of amendments to the law in 1995 and 2004.  (Id.)

Changes Met with Mixed Reactions 

The new alcohol provisions easily passed in Parliament (with a 124 to 65 vote), but the public response has been mixed. The Social Affairs and Health Committee of the Parliament had recommended that the current limit of 4.7 % be kept, and a professor at Helsinki University called the raising of the limit “the worst decision in his lifetime.” (Social- Och Hälsovårdsutskottet [Social Affairs and Health Committee], Utlåtande [Report] ShUU 14 /2017 rd— RP169/2017rd, Eduskunta/Riksdagen (Nov. 30, 2017); Sebastian Granskog & Niklas Fagerström, Alkoholforskare ursinnig över lagändringen – “Värsta beslutet som gjorts under min livstid” [Alcohol Scientist Furious About the Change in the Law- “Worst Decision Made During My Lifetime”], YLE (Dec. 15, 2017).)  Professor Peter Eriksson has argued that after the alcohol legislation was amended in 1995 and 2004, alcohol use and the social costs associated with that use went up.(Granskog & Fagerström, supra.)

Shopkeepers, brewers, and consumers, on the other hand were happy with the decision, hoping that the new Act would increase revenue and tourism and make a wider selection of alcoholic beverages available at local shops. (Minna Almark, Turismen i Fiskars gynnas av nya alkohollagen [Tourism in Fiskars Is Favored by the New Alcohol Law], YLE (Dec. 20, 2017); Niklas Fagerström, Butikschefer och folk på stan positivt inställda – brett stöd för starkare varor i butikerna [Store Managers and People in Town React Positively – Wide Support for Stronger Products in the Stores], YLE (Dec. 15, 2017).) A study conducted in November found that 53% of Finns were in favor of the changes.  (Fagerström, supra.)