When liberalization is visible in injury statistics – an evaluation of the alcohol reform in 2018
In 2018, the Finnish alcohol law was reformed. The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, THL, has, on behalf of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, assessed the effects of the worsening of the alcohol laws. THL examined closely how alcohol availability, alcohol consumption, and alcohol harm developed after the worsened laws took effect.
The alcohol law ‘reform’ – overview
The alcohol law that came into force in 2018 raised, among other things, the maximum alcohol content of alcoholic drinks sold in grocery stores from 4.7% to 5.5%.
Higher strength alcohol products became more available.
The worsened law also allowed the sale of alcohol-based drink mixes in grocery stores.
This means that, for example, people could buy alcoholic soft drinks in the grocery store, a product that could previously only be found on the shelves of the government-run alcohol retail monopoly Alkos.
The price of worsening the alcohol law
The evaluation published by THL in November 2022, states that the worsening of the alcohol law in 2018 had a negative impact on the health of Finns in general and alcohol consumption of young people in Finland in particular.
In 2019 and 2020, approximately 160 more people died per year from alcohol-related diseases and poisoning compared to 2017.
In 2020, a total of approximately 1,700 people died from these causes.
The number of deaths due to liver disease caused by alcohol increased, especially among men. Between 2017 and 2019, the number increased by 12 percent and up to 2020 by 22 percent. The number of liver diseases caused by alcohol also increased among those treated in the health care system.
This means that people and the health system in general are exposed to a greater alcohol burden.
After the law reform, alcohol mortality increased more than alcohol consumption at the population level. This suggests that heavy alcohol users have increased their alcohol consumption more than other consumers.
Increased availability meant increased normalization of strong beer and alcoholic soft drinks
Between the years 2017 and 2019, with the reform of the alcohol law, retail sales of 4.8–5.5% strong beer increased by roughly 600%.
Retail sales of drink mixes of the same strength increased by roughly 500%.
In contrast, consumption of other alcoholic beverages sold in convenience stores, particularly beer, decreased.
In 2018, total alcohol consumption was 10.1 liters of 100% alcohol per resident over 15 years of age, and it increased by only 0.1 liters compared to the previous year. The total consumption includes the statistically recorded consumption of alcohol, i.e. sales in retail trade and catering as well as unregistered consumption, i.e. travel imports and online sales.
Read more about the development of total consumption here: Statistical yearbook on alcohol and other drugs 2022.
The statistical alcohol consumption is affected by many different factors – ca. 3% increase is due to the worsening of the alcohol law
With the help of a time series model, it is possible to take into account various factors that may have influenced alcohol consumption at the same time. When the distinct and independent effect of the alcohol law reform is separated from the simultaneous effects of other factors, it is possible to see that the reform probably increased the statistical alcohol consumption by about 3%, compared to the level it would have been at without the law reform.
Alcohol taxes were increased by 10% in 2018. Generally, tax increases reduce alcohol consumption, but this time it was different. Consumption increased slightly despite the tax increases.
As of 2019, total alcohol consumption decreased again, which was partly due to the increases in alcohol taxes, as well as the effects of the corona pandemic. In the longer term, total consumption in Finland has generally decreased since 2007.
Limiting sales prevents alcohol harm
In relation to the entire alcohol sales system, the reform of the alcohol law in 2018 was quite small:
- 3.2% of Alko’s sales were opened up to private competition.
- A more extensive dismantling of Alko’s monopoly system could have increased the harmful effects considerably more.
Limiting the number of points of sale is a key way to prevent alcohol harm and promote the welfare, health and safety of the population. For this objective, the alcohol retail monopoly system plays a key role.
Read more about the alcohol retail monopoly here: Alcohol – still not an ordinary commodity.