The Swedish government is currently deliberating the final steps of a process that will disband the cornerstone of Sweden’s world-class alcohol policy system, the government-run alcohol retail monopoly. Introducing private profit interests into the sale of alcohol in Sweden, as the current government aims to do against the will of the people, will cause more harm and deaths as communities and researchers warn.

The Swedish government is currently working on a bill that would expose countless Swedish people to more alcohol harm. The bill would allow selling of alcohol outside of the government-run alcohol retail monopoly stores – so called “farm sales” where producers can sell alcohol directly to customers.

It’s a direct threat to Sweden’s alcohol retail monopoly system that removes the profit-maximization interest from alcohol retail and prioritizes public health by placing common sense limits on the distribution of alcohol in the country. Alcohol retail monopolies are one of the most effective policy solutions in protecting people and communities from the harms caused by the alcohol industry.

According to latest reports, the Swedish government is ready to disband the country’s world-class alcohol policy system, after having gathered input from referral bodies that has not changed the highly controversial plan of the government. According to Dagen newspaper reporting, it is only a matter of weeks now that the governing parties are taking the next step towards so called “farm sales of alcohol”. Dagen has read the Ministry of Social Affairs’ information to the Legislative Council.

According to this information, the Legislative Council will complete its referral by the end of April. The government plans for the proposed law to come into effect from the beginning of 2025.

Lucas Nilsson, the Chairman of IOGT-NTO commented on the fundamental incompatibility of the proposed law with current EU laws, as per Accent magazine reporting:

…the government is now risking a proven, effective tool for alcohol harm prevention, the Swedish Systembolaget. It is not possible to combine so-called farm sales with EU law, which tolerates Systembolaget precisely because it is a monopoly.”

Lucas Nilsson, chairman, IOGT-NTO

Introducing private alcohol retailers drives alcohol consumption higher

Allowing alcohol sales at the site of production in Sweden goes beyond what is wrongly called “farm sales” and would allow alcohol sales points across the country that are attached to alcohol production sites. Due to EU laws and rules that Sweden as EU member must abide by, this new model would mean the end of the alcohol retail monopoly.

One study has already run simulations on the likely public health harm of disbanding Systembolaget. The researchers used innovative modelling techniques to estimate these outcomes in both of the following scenarios.

  • privately owned liquor stores, or
  • alcohol sales in grocery stores.

The study used expert opinion and published evidence to measure the impact of changes in pricing, outlet density, trading hours, advertising, and marketing.

The study found that replacing the government monopoly with private alcohol stores would lead to a 20% increase in per capita alcohol consumption. Replacing the Systembolaget with grocery stores on the other hand led to a 31.2% increase in per capita alcohol consumption.

Rising alcohol use from disbanding Systembolaget
Replacing Systembolaget with grocery stores selling alcohol would laed to a 31.2% increase in per capita alcohol consumption.

While the current proposal arguably does not seek to replace the Systembolaget completely, introducing private companies does effectively render the state monopoly obsolete.

The scientists who carried out the study actually concluded that Sweden would benefit from further improving their alcohol policy system (especially in relation to raising alcohol pricing), instead of undermining or disbanding it.

The alcohol retail monopoly is such a key instrument in protecting the Swedish public from alcohol harm that it has been ranking highest for public trust for three consecutive years. Studies based on the SOM surveys at the University of Gothenburg found that there are two main reasons for this level of unchanging support:

  1. Self interest: The studies found people who consume less alcohol are more positive to alcohol policy measures while frequent alcohol users tend to think otherwise. This shows the self interest aspect of supporting public health policy.
  2. Solidarity: For Swedes self-interest takes a backseat when considering solidarity with other Swedes. This is the reason for their shared belief that the consequences of alcohol are a societal problem rather than an individual responsibility.

Big Alcohol hides behind attack on alcohol retail monopoly

Disbanding the Systembolaget therefore is rather the interest of a minority, not the majority of the Swedish people. A report by IOGT-NTO in 2020 actually exposed this minority group to be none other than Big Alcohol itself. This means that the proposed policy degradation would not benefit ‘small-scale alcohol producers’, which it claims to do.

When the lobbying push for so called “farm sales” (Swedish: Gårdsförsäljning) first was launched, the claim was that it would benefit local, rural Swedish business. But IOGT-NTO’s report revealed that the campaign for “farm sales” is trojan horse by Big Alcohol. It is intended to undo the Systembolaget and maximise profit for alcohol industry shareholders. The IOGT-NTO report exposes three main myths that Big Alcohol is using to manipulate the public and garner political support:

  1. The manufacturing scam.
    “Farm sales” supposedly give manufacturers the opportunity to sell alcohol directly to the customer. However, this veils the conditions that make an alcohol company a ‘manufacturer’. For example, it is enough to add raspberry flavor to 97% factory-bought raw alcohol, dilute with water and pour into a bottle to be classified as ‘manufacturer’.
  2. The rural bluff.
    So called “farm sales” are presented as if they could rescue rural and small business. However there is no clear limit to what constitutes a “farm sale” spelled out in the proposed law. The majority of alcohol breweries and distilleries in the country is located in big cities, not the countryside. This means that the policy will ultimately devolve into garage sales of alcohol in urban settings, not ‘farm sales’.
  3. The innocence scam.
    So called “farm sales” are presented as a way to “help” rural small business when it is anything but. The “farm sales” proposal would allow for profit interests to enter alcohol retail in Sweden. 

The WHO warns against the dangers of disbanding local alcohol retail monopolies

According to the definition of the World Health Organization (WHO), an alcohol monopoly is a “government-controlled system for all or a segment of the alcohol supply chain”. These segments can include the import, production, distribution, sales and/or export of alcohol.

Sweden’s alcohol monopoly controls the sales of all alcohol stronger than 3.5 ABV.

Scientific evidence shows that the continued ownership of alcohol retail systems actually leads to significantly reduced economic costs as well as improved public health. Disbanding monopoly systems for alcohol on the other hand increases alcohol’s burden on the economy and the country’s social support systems. Destructing the state monopoly on alcohol also affects the revenue that the government earns through it.

Increasing the number of private alcohol retailers reduces the government’s control over the conditions of sale. This increases alcohol promotion at points-of-sale and makes full implementation of youth protections such as legal age limit much more difficult. The new policy also introduces profit motives into selling alcohol, which is in direct conflict with public health goals.

 Systembolaget’s alcohol retail monopoly saves lives by curbing alcohol consumption. Now we risk seeing more people getting hurt and dying, more people getting addicted, more violence and more children being hurt by adults’ alcohol use. And for what? A misguided and incorrectly painted picture of some picturesque vineyard.”

Lucas Nilsson, chairman, IOGT-NTO


Accent: “Details: Proposal for farm sales of alcohol near” [Translated from Swedish]

WHO concept note

Webinar: “Alcohol monopolies: what does it take for alcohol monopolies to work?” conducted by the World Health Organization

Watch the WHO Webinar on Alcohol Retail Monopolies

Alcohol monopolies: what does it take for alcohol monopolies to work? WHO’s webinar of October 2023

Find the event program and background material here.

For further reading