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Retailers welcome alcohol reform, addiction experts warn of health risks

Alcohol law reform was on parliament's agenda on Thursday, with a government proposal to make stronger drinks available in supermarkets submitted for consideration by MPs. The law will also make it easier for small producers to sell their products from their own premises, and simplify the licensing system for restaurants.

Koskenkorva-pulloja Alkossa.
Stronger spirits will not be available in supermarkets and shops even if the alcohol reform is passed. Image: Ismo Pekkarinen / AOP

Finnish shoppers will in future be able to purchase slightly stronger booze from their local supermarket, if a legislative proposal from the government is passed. The law would allow supermarkets and grocery stores to sell alcoholic drinks up to 5.5 percent in strength, up from the current limit of 4.7 percent.

Stronger drinks would remain restricted to the state-owned alcohol monopoly Alko.

The reform also allows small breweries to sell their stronger products on-site, so long as their total production remains below 500 million litres, introduces one license for restaurants instead of the current three-tier system allowing different strength drinks to be served, and lengthens the permitted opening hours of the state alcohol retailer Alko by one hour to 9pm.

Retailers welcomed the law, suggesting that it would help stem the flow of alcohol imports brought in by travellers from countries with lower alcohol taxes.

Culture shift

"An expansion of the range of products supports at the same time a shift in our alcohol culture away from quantity and towards quality," said the Finnish Grocery Trade Association in a statement.

Addiction support workers, meanwhile, were disappointed with the government's proposal. EPT, an association of addiction treatment organisations, claimed that the reform would cause an additional 150 deaths each year.

The EPT bases that estimate on figures from the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), which suggest that stronger drinks in supermarkets would cause a six percent jump in alcohol consumption—with associated health effects.

Increased mortality

"There is also the threat of a widening in disparities in health outcomes," said EPT chair Olavi Kaukonen. A growth in alcohol consumption especially threatens the more vulnerable sections of society."

MPs from government parties will have a free vote on the reform, leaving opposition groups a deciding role in the parliamentary process. SDP group chair Antti Lindtman told Yle that a decision would be made later, but the initial reaction from Social Democrat MPs was negative.

Green group leader Krista Mikkonen gave a similar assessment, while the Finns Party parliamentary group chair Ville Tavio said there were mixed feelings in his group. The Left Alliance has promised to give Leftist MPs a free vote on the matter.

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