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Minister Susanna Huovinen assures that new alcohol policy restrictions will reach the parliament during the spring.The availability of alcohol must see new restrictions, says Minister of Health and Social Services Susanna Huovinen.

The threat of restrictions is worrisome for the brewery and restaurant industries, which have actively lobbied against the changes.

The evaluation memo of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health proposes stricter alcohol taxation and an adulteration of medium-strength beer. Extensions in nightclub opening hours and the sales times of medium-strength beer in shops should be cut down.

The objective is to reduce the adverse effects of alcohol.

Huovinen informs that she is “ambitious” about steering the entire amendment and that the goal is to have the legislation processed by Parliament during the spring term. This calls for heavy negotiations with the largest parliamentary group, the National Coalition. According to Huovinen negotiations have not yet been initiated.

“This is why it is too early to expand upon the coming measures. I do feel that we have to keep in mind the goal of reaching a permanent decline in the overall consumption of alcohol,” she says.

“The World Health Organisation and all our health experts believe that the three most important measures are to limit availability, prices and advertisement.”

For example, a shortening of extended night clubs’ opening hours is still under consideration despite resistance within the industry.

“It has not been removed. Lots of alternative methods will be taken into consideration.”

Huovinen considers increased taxation essential.

“I feel that the policy of moderate increases in taxation is worth continuing,” she says. “It is challenging to find a balance, where the black market or importation with passengers will not get out of hand.”

Huovinen was involved in approving a significant decrease in alcohol taxation in 2004, when Estonia joined the European Union.

Alcohol consumption grew at that time. Taxes have again been increased gradually since 2008.

Huovinen managed to cause a stir during her first months as minister, when she announced that moving medium-strength beer from stores to Alko is an option.

“I got the nickname ‘Keppana-Huovinen’, but I was pleased with the discussion: it is important to mull over the fact that alcohol results in drawbacks worth billions of euro annually.”

Transferring medium-strength beer containing 4.7 alcohol percentage by volume at most to Alko would mean in practice that grocery stores and kiosks would be permitted to only sell drinks that are more diluted than they are currently. Based on Huovinen’s response this is something that should not be expected in this amendment.

“It should be thought of as some kind of tailgate to be considered for example in 2020, if other measures have not permanently reduced alcohol consumption.”

“Right now it is worth pondering how consumers could be advocated to consider milder beer to be a valid alternative in stores.”

The Finnish economic situation is not encouraging: within the brewing industry Hartwall plans to lay off 140 people at most.

According to Huovinen the limitations and increases in taxation are even harder to decree during the current economic situation.

“I understand the concern over jobs. Yet alcohol politics cannot be considered merely as a question of economics or employment, as the adverse effects are too huge.”

In the past week MP Aino-Kaisa Pekonen from the Left Alliance surprised by demanding looser taxation of alcohol sold at restaurants. Traditionally these demands have been made by representatives of the industry as well as the right-wing party National Coalition.

“It was slightly surprising, but parties do have internal differences of opinion, so it is not unheard of,” Huovinen says.

The minister promises that the overall amendment does not only concern restrictions, but also simplifications.

“Current legislation contains lots of impractical areas. The law states that one may fetch a drink for oneself from the bar. This is probably not something that is strictly followed, but does this call for the legislator’s or employee’s time?” 

Heli Suominen - HS
Annika Rautakoura - HT  
Image: Kaisa Rautaheimo – HS