Alcohol is a major health hazard
Eight alcohol-related deaths occur in Finland every day
We are a nation of drinkers.
Almost all Finnish adults consume alcohol. The proportion of teetotallers is around 10 per cent.
In 2008, Finns aged over 15 consumed an average of 12.5 litres of 100 per cent pure alcohol. In other words, each of them drank three bottles of medium-strength beer on average every day.
In general, Finns drink as much as other Europeans. However, there are two characteristics which distinguish them from others.
Firstly, Finns do not tipple all week but get throroughly legless at the weekend.
Secondly, a small part of the population - around ten per cent - consumes 52% of all the alcohol used in Finland.
The Finns’ drinking habits are also reflected in some grim statistics. Roughly 3,000 Finns die from alcohol every year.
In 2008, a total of 1,145 Finns died of liver diseases. The figure is considerably higher than that for traffic deaths.
Finland has become a country with the highest incidence of liver cirrhosis in Europe. The number of hepatic cirrhosis related deaths is increasing more rapidly in this country than in any other European country.
In one out of three cases, an alcohol-related death is a consequence of an accident or a scuffle that was caused by excessive drinking. A total of 582 people drank themselves to death by accident.
Alcohol has been listed as the worst single health hazard to Finns.
”It used to be tobacco, while in the future the worst hazard could be obesity. But today, alcohol is the greatest and most crucial cause of death in Finland”, says professor Jussi Huttunen, the former Director General of the National Public Health Institute (KTL).
It has been estimated that the alcohol-related deaths can reduce the life expectancy of Finnish men by two years. For women the corresponding figure is six months on average.
The lost years of life, the missed working days, and other alcohol-related harms are also expensive for the society.
In 2008, excise taxes on alcohol brought the state tax revenues of almost EUR 2 billion. However, the direct and indirect costs caused by alcohol have been estimated to be at least double or triple the amount coming in.
”Probably around 1-2 per cent of every Finn’s taxes are used for the treatment of alcohol-related health hazards”, estimates researcher Peter Eriksson from the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), which started operations on January 1st 2009, following the merger of the National Research and Development Centre for Welfare and Health (STAKES) and KTL.
Nevertheless, there could be some hope for improvement when it comes to the drinking habits of Finns.
In 2008, the consumption of pure alcohol was one decilitre lower than in the previous year.
Optimists believe that the amount will continue to decline, while pessimists claim that the dip is a consequence of the current recession period.
Professor Huttunen pins his faith on the young and the well-educated. In both groups binge drinking has decreased.
”Changes often start among the well-educated people, spreading from there to other social groups”, Huttunen argues.
This is the pattern that also led to giving up smoking in Finland.
All the same, the traditional Finnish habit of consuming alcohol excessively during the Christmas time has led to another tradition: closing the bottle completely for the entire month of January.
While there are several theories of the beginning of the tradition, one thing is obvious. This tradition is not known outside Finland, not even in Sweden, where alcohol consumption is very similar to that found here.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Alcohol abuse most common killer of working-age Finnish men (1.11.2006)
Record number of alcohol-related deaths in Finland last year (1.11.2005)
Police crackdown against drunk driving reveals more than 100 intoxicated drivers (11.6.2009)
Alcohol-related deaths rise by one third from 2000 (30.11.2007)
Alcohol-related problems on increase during summer holiday season (14.8.2007)
Alcohol consumption goes down a fraction (15.12.2009)