Sweden - Consumption trends
In June, Sweden released preliminary figures on alcohol consumption during March and April 2020. The data is unique in the way that it goes beyond registered sales data and revenue and also includes cross-border shopping, home production and smuggling. Take a closer look.
The Swedish total consumption of alcohol per capita over 15 years or older was 9 litres of pure alcohol in 2017, out of which 2 litres was unrecorded consumption. The wine was the most commonly consumed beverage.
According to OECD report "State of Health in the EU (2017)" "Overall alcohol consumption per adult has increased and one-fifth of adults report heavy alcohol consumption on a regular basis."
Regardless of that developments, alcohol consumption among Swedish adults is the lowest in the EU with adults consuming 7.2 litres per capita in 2015, although this is up from 6.2 litres in 2000. Alcohol consumption among 15-year-olds is also among the lowest in the EU, with 18% of girls and 15% of boys reporting having been drunk at least twice in their life (compared to an EU average of 23% among girls and 27% among boys). However, there remains a challenge in reducing regular binge drinking among a sizeable proportion of adults. Over 20% of adults in Sweden (12% of women and 29% of men) report heavy alcohol consumption on a regular basis, which is slightly higher than the EU average.
Sweden’s low levels of preventable deaths for causes such as lung cancer (third-lowest mortality rate in the EU), alcohol-related deaths (eighth lowest) and road traffic accidents (second lowest) can partly be explained by strong public health policies. Public awareness campaigns and high taxes on tobacco and alcohol, a long tradition in Sweden, have contributed to restricting consumption. The alcohol control policy is characterised by a state retail monopoly that limits access to dedicated stores with restricted opening hours. It also imposes a minimum age limit of 20 years to buy liquor.
Swedish data on alcohol and covid-19
In June 2020, Sweden released preliminary figures on alcohol consumption during March and April 2020. The data is unique in the way that it goes beyond registered sales data and revenue and also includes cross-border shopping, home production and smuggling, as we are informed by Kalle Dramstad, IOGT-NTO´s Head of European Policy.
The data enables a more detailed analysis of consumption than would otherwise be possible. Interestingly, it suggests the reduction in availability of alcohol has played a key role in reducing consumption.
In Sweden, the COVID-measures were implemented from mid-March onwards. Although bars and restaurants were never closed completely, they were affected by the measures.
Sweden saw estimated total consumption, measured in pure alcohol, in the first two months of the pandemic decline by 7% compared to the same period in the previous year. Purchases in restaurants and bars declined by 52% and unregistered consumption (primarily cross-border shopping and smuggling) by 56%. The decline was met by an increase in national retail sales (10%) but the net effect, considering the share of the different purchasing streams, still represented a sizeable reduction.
There are of course other variables at play influencing the total consumption of alcohol. Social distancing requirements as well as a health-focused national discourse can be expected to have reduced purchases generally, and particularly surrounding Easter and Valborg [a Swedish spring holiday, for some associated with heavy alcohol consumption]. At the same time, there are aspects of the crisis, not least stress, loneliness and boredom that can also act as triggers of alcohol consumption. This duality can be seen in polling both within Sweden and other countries where some people reported increased consumption and some decreased. The Swedish data, nonetheless, indicates a clear correlation between the decline in total purchases and the decline in those exact purchasing streams affected by the COVID-restrictions, suggesting reduced availability as the main explanatory factor.