Norway: Alcohol Lobby Seeks to Dismantle Policy Model
Norwegian alcohol lobby group Virke is pushing for Norway’s 3,000 kiosks and gas stations to be licensed to sell beer. The country’s grocery stores already have the rights to sell beer.
Currently Norway operates the government-run alcohol monopoly “Vinmonopolet” – the country’s alcohol retail monopoly – to control availability and affordability of alcohol. The monopoly has been active since 1922.
In a nutshell alcohol monopolies in Scandinavian countries like Norway have these characteristics:
- State-owned monopolies hold the sole rights to the retail sales of alcoholic beverages.
- Limited availability; number of stores, opening hours and proactive work to counter bootlegging.
- Sales regulations preventing minors or anyone notably intoxicated to buy alcoholic beverages.
- No maximisation of profits, and the profit interest removed from the retail of alcohol.
- Brand-neutrality; no supplier or individual product is either discriminated against or favoured.
- Restricted advertising and marketing.
The Norwegian alcohol monopoly effectively curbs alcohol harm by restricting availability and keeping alcohol consumption low. If more and more alcohol becomes available outside of the monopoly, it undermines this system. Eventually such undermining of alcohol control will lead to dismantling of the monopoly itself.
Alcohol control policy in Norway
The management and activities of AS Vinmonopolet is regulated both by the Alcohol Act, No. 27 of June 2, 1989 and by the State Monopoly law, No. 18 of June 19, 1931. The Alcohol Act states that the purpose of regulating the importation and sale and serving of alcoholic beverages is to curb, to the greatest possible extent, the harm to society and the individual that may result from the consumption of alcoholic beverages. To this end the Act aims at limiting the consumption of alcoholic beverages.
However, The principles of the EU internal market have made it difficult to maintain effective national regulation in the public health arena for Norway and other Nordic countries. The EEA agreement resulted in changes within Vinmonopolet which weakened the monopoly and alcohol control within the country.
Instead of limiting availability after 1994 Vinmonopolet went into expansion and introducing self-service due the alcohol-political and customer oriented pressures.
Grocery stores being licensed to sell beer outside of the Vinmonopolet further weakened the alcohol monopoly. If Virke manages to get kiosks and gas stations also licensed to sell beer it would be another hit for Vinmonopolet.
Evidently, the strategy used by the alcohol industry is to make more alcohol available to be bought outside of the retail monopoly which undermines the system and will eventually lead to its dismantling.