Growth in alcohol consumption levels off; imports by tourists take a sharp dive
The sharp rise in the consumption of alcohol which followed the drop in alcohol taxation in 2004 appears to have levelled off in the early part of this year. If the trend continues, overall consumption could actually decrease during the latter part of 2006.
The main reason behind the trend is the sharp decline in consumption that does not make it into the official statistics - mainly personal imports by travellers returning home from abroad.
The amount of strong spirits brought back from abroad - especially Estonia - has declined by as much as one third compared with the previous year, and personal imports of beer have also declined significantly.
Also, an increasing number of Finns come back from trips abroad without a single bottle of cheap liquor.
Estimates of personal imports are based on polls taken three times a year. A poll taken for the early part of the year suggested nearly a 25 per cent drop in travellers' imports. Most of the alcohol brought in from abroad is from the Estonian capital Tallinn. Travel between Finland and Estonia has declined, and the amount of drink imported by the travellers has fallen even more. There was also an increase in the proportion of travellers who were not weighed down at all by liquid souvenirs.
The decline is so substantial that it could signify an overall reduction in total alcohol consumption for this year.
However, domestic consumption that makes it into official statistics - beverages bought from sales outlets in Finland - has grown by 2.5 per cent.
Experts are not sure if the decline in consumption will be a lasting trend.
"There will be a slight dip in the growth this year", predicts Ismo Tuominen of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. He estimates that the lower consumption will amount to about 0.2 litres of alcohol per Finn per year. However, he does not expect the decline to be permanent.
Meanwhile, researcher Esa Österberg at the National Research and Development Centre for Welfare and Health (STAKES) does not expect alcohol consumption to rebound. However, he also feels that it is premature to talk about an actual decline.
Österberg notes that per capita alcohol consumption cannot increase indefinitely: a saturation-point exists somewhere.
"In the West it is somewhere between 12 and 13 litres; in Russia it is higher."
Finns appear to be growing tired of the difficulties caused by alcohol. A poll released last Wednesday showed that more people are calling for a tighter policy on alcohol.
More people have been making public statements denouncing excessive drinking.
"If these kinds of statements increase, they can have an effect", Esa Österberg says.
"If the perception that the elite no longer drinks very much becomes more widespread, others will also feel pressure to reduce consumption."
Previously in HS International Edition:
Significant rise in overall alcohol consumption in Finland last year (25.2.2005)