Overall alcohol consumption in Finland fell by 3 percent last year compared to 2020, according to a report published on Thursday by public health authority THL.
In a press release, the agency explained that the decrease in consumption was mainly due to a dramatic drop in the amount of alcohol being imported into the country by passengers returning from trips abroad, which was in turn caused by Covid restrictions on travel.
"Imports by passengers have halved for two consecutive years, as they halved in 2020 and then again in 2021. This is the clearest factor pushing down overall consumption," THL specialist Marke Jääskeläinen wrote in the press release.
THL further noted that while the amount of alcohol being purchased online increased last year, the levels were not enough to compensate for the decline in imports by passengers.
With Covid-related restrictions on travel now largely lifted, Jääskeläinen expects passenger imports to increase again during 2022. However, this would also depend on domestic sales of alcoholic beverages from Alko outlets, grocery stores and restaurants remaining at last year's levels.
"Prediction is always a difficult area," Jääskeläinen noted, adding that THL's report also found domestic sales of alcoholic beverages fell by 0.7 percent last year.
Alcohol consumption gradually falling since 2005 peak
Total alcohol consumption in Finland peaked in 2005, when 12.1 litres of alcohol were consumed per head of population above the age of 15, but has been in steady decline since then.
The level fell to just over 10 litres per capita in 2018, just under 10 litres in 2019 and as far as 9.0 litres in 2021.
"It would be highly desirable for total consumption to continue to decline slowly, even after the Covid epidemic and restrictions are over. I see that there is a possibility for that," Jääskeläinen said.
The loosening of alcohol laws in 2018 — which allowed allow stronger drinks up to an alcohol content level of 5.5 percent to be sold in groceries, convenience shops and petrol stations — was widely predicted to lead to an increase in consumption, but that has not happened.
"There was no explosion in the sale of stronger beers and no knock-on effect on total consumption," Jääskeläinen said.
Alcohol-related deaths on the rise
In general, Jääskeläinen explained, the amount of harm caused by alcohol — such as addiction or disease — follows the consumption levels quite closely, except in the number of deaths caused by alcohol-induced liver disease.
"After 2017, they have increased quite sharply, especially for men," he noted, adding that the same phenomenon was observed in 2004, just after Finnish authorities significantly reduced taxes on alcohol.
People who already drink a lot tend to increase their consumption, Jääskeläinen added.
"Their bodies were already in poor condition, and they then increased their alcohol consumption so much that it resulted in death," he said.