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Can "Dry January" help quench Finland's thirst for alcohol?

Alcohol-related problems cost Finland 1.6 billion euros annually; state booze monopoly Alko rings up sales of 1.2 billion.

All Points North
Image: Yle / Rolf Granqvist

Many people in Finland are wrapping up a month of abstinence from alcohol, known as “tipaton tammikuu” or Dry January in English. Annika Eloranta of the Network for Preventive Substance Abuse Work (EPT) told All Points North that Finns drink 10.4 litres of hard liquor per person each year, a number that was declining but has bubbled up slightly in recent years.

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Audio: Yle News

Eloranta noted that currently about 500,000 people in Finland can be classified as excessive drinkers. APN’s guests agreed that public health officials have good reason to be concerned about how people consume alcohol.

The NGO coordinator said that Finnish companies lose up to 500 million euros a year because of excessive alcohol consumption. "If you think about the sick leaves, the [disability] pensions, workers not coming to work, or working less than they should or just becoming sick," she said.

"In child welfare, the costs are quite heavy. In half of these cases, child welfare checks are because of intoxication of the parents or problems with alcohol, for example," she commented, adding that apart from the cost to society, families and individuals also suffer.

Real health benefits of abstinence

Some people are sceptical about the usefulness of the annual campaign, but Yle’s science, health and lifestyle producer Ville Laakso said that there are clear benefits to easing off the booze, even for as short a period as one month. He cited a study by the University of Sussex in the UK in 2019.

"Obviously weight and blood pressure are the known ones but it also affects the rate of drinking later on, so for example up until August, people still reported one day less drinking a week. Apparently it sort of cuts the routine and makes people think about their drinking habits more," Laakso explained.

Eloranta said that the network EPT runs a Dry January campaign every year. The NGO’s surveys show that 64 percent of people continue abstaining from alcohol into February. However two percent drink more after completing the month and just one percent drop off the programme mid-month.

No warning labels soon

APN’s audience got involved in the discussion with one Facebook commenter calling for warnings on alcohol products in the same way the tobacco industry now has sometimes graphic warnings on cigarette packages.

Eloranta said that EPT is working with other NGOs at the EU level to lobby for the alcohol industry to provide more information in product labels. She noted that the sector, particularly the wine industry, has not warmed to the idea.

"The alcohol companies and the industry have just agreed to put ingredients on their labels so we are quite far from pictures or warnings," she disclosed.

Finland has been observing Dry January since 1942. During Finland’s Continuation War with Russia and there were concerns about rising alcohol consumption. The movement got another kick in the 70s when paper mills organised similar sobriety campaigns for their workers’ benefit. Back in those days, the movement ran in February, the shortest month of the year. Employees who remained sober for the full month received an award such as a plaque or a linen table runner.

Join the conversation

If you have any questions or would like to share your thoughts, just contact us via WhatsApp on +358 44 421 0909, on our Facebook or Twitter account, or at yle.news@yle.fi.

This week's show was presented by Denise Wall. Our reporter was Zena Iovino and the producer was Priya Ramachandran D'souza. The sound engineer this week was Jami Auvinen.

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