15.08.2023 - Effective alcohol policy should not only focus on individual decisions but, more importantly, on its long-term objectives and vision.
The consequences of alcohol consumption pose significant harm to individuals, communities, and the larger society. It is known that alcohol consumption is linked to at least 200 diseases, including cancers, heart diseases, liver diseases, and hypertension.
Alcohol is one of the primary causes of premature deaths. Between 2011 and 2021, nearly 20,000 individuals in Finland died due to alcohol-related diseases and accidental alcohol poisonings. Fatalities, such as accidents, cardiovascular diseases, and cancers where alcohol played a contributory role, are not included in the statistics specifically for alcohol poisoning. Moreover, alcohol can both cause and exacerbate mental health problems, including depression and anxiety.
The immediate circle of those with heavy alcohol consumption, such as spouses, children, and coworkers, can also suffer from the repercussions of alcohol misuse. It is estimated that between 65,000 to 70,000 children in Finland live in families where at least one parent has a severe substance abuse problem. In workplaces, harmful alcohol consumption of an employee can reduce work efficiency and productivity, causing problems not only for the employee but also for the employer and colleagues.
Health and social care services bear a significant burden due to the consequences of substance abuse. Alcohol consumption is increasingly the primary or at least a significant underlying reason for medical visits and treatments.
"Alcohol detrimentally affects Finland's competitiveness in various sectors. The losses are significant both for the national economy and public health, not to mention the human suffering," states Juha Mikkonen, Managing Director of EHYT ry.
The interests of businesses should not override individual well-being
The government's role is to reduce the health and social services sector strain. Its decisions should aim to reduce avoidable illnesses and premature deaths. At the same time, the working capacity of the population needs to be improved to ensure the financing of the welfare state and to maintain Finland's competitiveness.
"For this reason, the state's alcohol policy should primarily be health policy and not economic policy," notes Mikkonen.
Decision-makers should focus on the overall good of society and not prioritize the profits of specific economic sectors, such as retail, at the expense of public health.
"Current ambiguities in the alcohol-related legislation certainly need clarification. However, the guidance of alcohol policy should be the responsibility of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. This should be obvious to any responsible decision-maker."