ALCOHOL and DRUG REPORT
ICELAND - Political situation
Alcohol policy in Iceland, being one of the strongest in the western world, has seen fierce opposition in the recent years. Several political initiatives have threatened to weaken the traditional Nordic alcohol policy, from abolishing retail monopoly system to allowing alcohol and tobacco advertising.
In February 2017 four parties – the ruling coalition of the Independence Party, the Reform Party and Bright Future, in addition to the Pirate Party – introduced a bill to parliament that aimed to permit the sale of alcohol in private shops, starting at the beginning of 2018. Doctors, public health officials and NGOs protested the change. And even domestic microbreweries came out in opposition to the bill, arguing that abolishing the state monopoly stores Vínbúðin, would only benefit larger breweries while hurting small producers.
Icelanders have supported the monopoly system and a new poll published by Kjarninn (conducted by Zenter in February 2017) affirmed that once again. Poll results showed that 61.5% of respondents were opposed to the sale of alcohol in private shops, with only 22.8% supporting the measure but 15.7% having no opinion.
Iceland´s alcohol policy was strongly supported also by the international public health community when NordAN, supported by European Alcohol Policy Alliance Eurocare and a list of different national and international organisations, sent a letter to Parliament members in Iceland urging them to “drop the bill proposing abolition of a public monopoly on sales of alcohol and of the alcohol advertising ban.”
On May 31, 2017, NordAN board member from Iceland, Arni Einarsson, informed the network that "the alcohol bill will not be taken to a final discussion in the Parliament. Today is the last working day of the present session. Now we will see if they start again next autumn when the next Parliament session starts."
On 15 September 2017, the three-party coalition government collapsed after the departure of Bright Future over a scandal involving Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson's father. Parliamentary elections were held in Iceland on 28 October 2017. Though many opinion polls in the run-up to the election indicated an increase in support for the Left-Green Movement, the Independence Party retained its position as the Althing's largest party. Following the election, four-party coalition talks led by the Left-Greens ensued; however, after the Progressive Party rejected the possibility, a three-party coalition led by the Left-Greens including the Independence Party and Progressive Party was negotiated. After formally receiving the mandate to form a coalition on 28 November, Left-Green leader Katrín Jakobsdóttir was designated Prime Minister to lead the new government on 30 November. (Source: Wikipedia)
New parliament continued with alcohol issues and started from homebrewing, which is currently illegal in Iceland, but a bill (March 2018) proposing its legalisation was reintroduced in parliament. Backed by 10 MPs from the Pirate Party, Independence Party, Social Democratic Alliance, and the Reform Party, the bill proposed legalising home brewing for personal consumption. Ívar J. Arndal, CEO of the State Alcohol and Tobacco Company of Iceland, released a statement on the bill where he urged the government to consider public health and social responsibility in reviewing the bill, but did not express direct opposition. He added that the bill has not made a distinction between the home brewing of beer and wine and stronger liquor, which is contrary to similar legislation in most countries in the region, such as England and Denmark.
In April 2018 Iceland´s Ministry of Education and Culture was considering lifting the ban on advertising alcohol and tobacco products. A majority of the committee on independent media proposed the change, publishing a report on the matter this past January. The committee stated the advertisements could present a large source of income for independent media in Iceland. Again, the plan met strong opposition from public health community from home and abroad.
In June 2018 Arni Einarsson, the NordAN board member from Iceland, reported: “It is now clear that the bill on allowing the sale of alcohol in ordinary stores and abolition of the advertising ban on alcohol will not pass the Parliament this time, once again. It never reached the level of being discussed in the Parliament. It is a relief but it does not mean that it will not appear once again next fall when the next Parliament session starts. The same fate faced the bill on allowing farm sale of alcohol. It was not processed in the Parliament."