Finland: Alcohol Harm Has NOT Increased
No major changes have been observed in alcohol consumption following the adoption of a new alcohol act in Finland in April 2018.
The National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) reported that the adoption of the act – which, for example, introduced stronger beverages to the shelves of grocery shops – appears to have brought about a slight increase in alcohol consumption. While this ends the downward trend in alcohol use and related harm, researchers state the change is not statistically significant.
Pia Mäkelä, a research professor at THL, said pricing is likely the reason for the smaller than estimated change.
Taloustutkimus and the Finnish Grocery Trade Association predicted that the prices of ciders and long drinks would fall by 40%. Also THL estimated that the discount pricing of these products would make them competitively priced compared to low-cost beer. We fell well short of this at least in the first year, which is excellent news for public health,” said Pia Mäkelä, a research professor at THL, as per Helsinki Times.
Analyzing the effect of the new alcohol act
In evaluating the effects of the policy change THL took into account a number of factors that have been shown to affect alcohol consumption, including summer weather, tax increases, and the storage and economic situation. It concluded that the legislative change alone has led to a 1.9% rise in alcohol consumption, but added that the estimate is not statistically relevant as it falls within the range of statistical fluctuation.
While this analysis shows the short term effects, the final conclusions on the effect of the amendment can not be drawn for a few years. It usually takes several years for legislative changes to affect consumer behaviour. For example, the sales of ciders and long drinks started in grocery shops in 1995, and at the time consumer behaviour did not change until five years after the law had come into effect.
The end of a positive trend
But the introduction of stronger alcoholic products to the shelves of normal shops has made alcohol more available in Finland and has already contributed to a positive trend coming to an end.
As THL states alcohol consumption decreased by 20% and alcohol-related deaths by 33% in Finland between 2007 and 2017. Roughly 70% of the drop in consumption can be attributed to pricing and economy-related changes, such as tax increases.
Only time will tell whether the alcohol harm will increase over time in Finland.