Significant rise in overall alcohol consumption in Finland last year
Consumption of alcoholic beverages hit a new record in Finland last year. In terms of absolute alcohol, Finns consumed a total amount of 53.7 million litres in 2004. This corresponds to 10.3 litres per capita or more than a bottle of spirits a week per head of population. Previously, 10 litres had been considered an almost unattainable figure.
The majority of the amount comprises statistically recorded consumption involving domestic sales at retail outlets, bars, and restaurants.
However, it is estimated that about one-fifth of the overall consumption does not figure in the statistics. Some 70% of this shortfall is made up of private imports by travellers, particularly from Estonia. Moreover, Finnish travellers' alcohol consumption abroad accounts for about 15% of the "non-statistical" consumption.
The consumption that is not included in the statistics is estimated based on surveys conducted by the National Product Control Agency for Welfare and Health (STTV), the Federation of the Brewing and Soft Drinks Industry, and Statistics Finland, as well as on information provided by the customs and police, and by looking at Estonia's alcohol tax revenues.
In both categories, the consumption of strong alcohol beverages - spirits - increased most. Statistically, the increase here was only 17.5%, whereas the non-statistical private imports of spirits almost doubled.
The rise in the overall alcohol consumption came as no surprise to alcohol experts for three reasons. In the first place, import restrictions for travellers from other EU countries were removed at the beginning of January. To head off a massive surge in personal imports by thirsty Finns, the government took the unprecedented move of cutting the traditionally high tax on alcoholic beverages sold in Finland was March, with the steepest reductions affecting spirits. The tax cut was seen as particularly necessary in light of the EU membership of Estonia, which joined the Union in May.
"The only surprise for us was that beer became the loss-leader promotion item at supermarkets", says Lennart Wahlfors, head of data management at the Product Control Agency for Welfare and Health. Beer, particularly in six-packs or 12-packs (known locally as "dachshunds"), became a weapon in the competitive war between supermarkets and supermarket chains, and the phenomenon continued somewhat unexpectedly even after the summer months. Prices of medium strength beer have plummeted.
On the other hand, researcher Esa Österberg of the National Research and Development Centre for Welfare and Health (STAKES) points out that the impact of the discount sale on beer was tempered by the cool summer.
Typically, the rise in alcohol consumption also increases the number of alcohol-related problems in society. According to the statistics collected by police, the number of drunken people taken into police custody has grown most. Other consequences including health problems, alcohol-related injuries and violence, as well as accidents, are only likely to appear later, and the number of problems is expected to be at a record level, especially as only some 13% of the alcohol was consumed in restaurants in 2004. This figure was somewhat lower than in the previous year.
As the overall consumption is expected to go up also in the course of the current year, the Government is considering various measures to turn the trend downward. One solution would be to increase alcohol taxes, according to the example set by Estonia.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Consumption of alcohol bought in Finland increases by 7.6 percent in first half of 2004 (2.9.2004)
The Federation of the Brewing and Soft Drinks Industry