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December 28, 2020

The keyword for 2020 is obviously the pandemic. It has changed almost everything, and it really is everywhere. For once, public health is the number one topic for every country, globally. While the economic situation is important, health risks are considered more so. Businesses are closed and some for good. It appears that the air travel might change so that it will never go back to what it was before the COVID-19. Remote working has opened new understandings on how different jobs can be done. NGO-s are no different. We have switched to webinars and digital meetings, saving both our scarce money and the environment. Hopefully, we will make some permanent changes from this experience as well.

But not all has been about COVID-19. In alcohol policy we have seen activity also, some propelled by the pandemic. The following is a brief review of what has happened in the Nordic and Baltic countries in 2020. What media covered and what was discussed in our countries. In most parts, this selection will ignore the different alcohol availability restrictions that were introduced to limit the spread of the virus. 



Border trade between Norway and Sweden is growing

Cross-border trade has and will always be an issue for alcohol policies. We have mainly associated it with some particular countries, the most famous between Finland and Estonia. But it affects almost every country. In January CAN (Central Federation for Alcohol and Drug Information) published a new report mapping Norway and Sweden's border trade. "Our estimate shows that in 2018, Norwegian border trade amounted to approximately 2.7 million litres of pure alcohol," said Ulf Guttormsson, Head of Department at CAN.
Volume increased by 16% between 2016 and 2018. During 2018, border trade corresponded to 0.62 litres of pure alcohol per Norwegian resident 15 years and older. This amount is more than twice as large as the calculations previously carried out by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

30,000 young Danes have an alcohol consumption that requires counselling or treatment
A new report from the Center for Substance Abuse Research shows that at least 30,000 young people between the ages of 15-25 in 2019 had such a large consumption of alcohol that they needed counselling or treatment, writes Berlingske. It corresponds to 3.8 per cent of the young people in the age group. That's a slight increase over a previous 2014 study from the centre.
That is "far too large a number", says Anette Søgaard Nielsen, professor at the Unit for Clinical Alcohol Research at the University of Southern Denmark and former head of Alcohol Treatment in Odense Municipality.

Blue Cross turns 125: More help for children and young people from abusive families
In January, Blue Cross Denmark was celebrating its 125th anniversary and pointed to a possible reason for the youth drinking problem. About 122,000 children grow up in a family with alcohol problems and live with shame, guilt and fear. A third of them risk developing an addiction themselves. It is the negative social legacy that the social assistance organization Blue Cross is trying to remedy in its support centres for children and therapy for young people who have had growing pains in recent years.

More and more liquor flows to Finland from online stores
The amount of alcohol Finns buy from online stores has snowballed during the year, says Customs.
There has not been a clear article in the Alcohol Act on distance selling, which has led to an increase in the amount of alcohol ordered from abroad, reports YLE News.

Juha Sipilä's Board of Directors pitted a bill on distance selling in December 2018 because the Center and the Coalition Party could not agree on the matter. It was decided to leave distance selling to the case law.

Lithuania wants to limit the daily operation of "alcohol parcels"
The Lithuanian government will curb the operation of so-called alcohol parcels, which is one of the methods used by entrepreneurs in trying to circumvent the restrictions on alcohol trade set in 2017, Apollo reports
Since last September, there have been five "alcohol depots" in Vilnius, where you can buy intoxicating drinks at any time of the day via a special mobile app. The alcohol bottling and storage service is offered by the company "Artimiausias" ("Nearest"), which emphasizes that it does not sell alcohol itself, but cooperates with the company "Žilva", which has a relevant trade license.
According to the government's intention, "alcoholic beverages" will continue to be stored, but will not be able to be removed at a time when the sale of alcohol is banned, according to a statement by the Ministry of Economy.


Latvian Ministry of Health opposes the sale of alcohol on the Internet
One of the topics of 2020 is the internet sales of alcohol. In Latvia, the Ministry of Health (MoW) has objections to the amendments to the Law on the Circulation of Alcoholic Beverages developed by the Ministry of Economics (MoE), intended to allow alcohol sale on the Internet. In Latvia, it is currently prohibited, TVNET reports. 
The Ministry of Health expressed concern that minors would be able to pretend to be an adult and order alcoholic beverages online. Also, the delivery of alcohol to the consumer at home will not secure age identification.

Every seventh family in Estonia suffers from alcohol
As a result of a comprehensive alcohol policy, alcohol consumption has decreased by a third in the last ten years and alcohol-related mortality by 40%. However, Estonia is still a long way from the set goals, Postimees writes. Every seventh family in Estonia suffers from alcohol, but the stories of seeking and receiving help remain poor. "Alcohol policy must be based primarily on health goals. In the long run, the social and health damage caused by alcohol will be more expensive for society than the income produced by this industry," said Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik.

Imports of alcoholic beverages from Estonia to Finland increased by 26 per cent last year
Passenger imports of alcoholic beverages from Estonia increased by 26 per cent last year, says a study by the Research and Analysis Center TAK Oy, YLE News report.
Imports of soft drinks, i.e. beer, cider and tentacles, increased by almost 40 per cent. In contrast, imports of spirits fell by 30 per cent. Finns' ship trips, on the other hand, decreased by three per cent.


Consumption in Finland rose slightly (+ 0.1%) in 2018, but returned to a clear downward path again last year. According to Valvira, the on-trade and retail sales of alcoholic beverages minus 2.1 per cent when converted to 100 per cent alcohol and -2 per cent per litre, as reported by YLE.

WHO: Alcohol is a major cause of cancer in Nordic countries

Alcohol is a risk factor for cancer in high-income countries, according to the annual cancer report from the World Health Organization (WHO). 

National and regional analyzes of risk factors that contribute to the cancer burden in different countries show that alcohol is a leading risk factor for cancer development and cancer death in countries such as the USA, France, Great Britain, Australia, and the Nordic countries Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Faroe Islands and Greenland, the report states.

The WHO's central message is that all countries must adapt their cancer strategy to their situation to avoid an increase in cases and deaths.

WHO points out in its summary that as many as seven million lives can be saved in the next decade if each country can point out the right tools in its fight, by basing the fight against cancer on good coverage in the health service for all, and get everyone to collaborate.

Source: Stavanger Aftenblad

Systembolaget is suing the Danish wine app
Systembolaget is suing the Danish wine app Vivino. The company violates the alcohol monopoly by delivering wine to Swedish households, claims Systemet.
Vivino started selling wine on the Swedish market in September 2019, in collaboration with a private courier company that handles home transport to customers.
This is contrary to the Alcohol Act, says Systembolaget's press manager Lennart Agén.
The system has the exclusive right to sell, both in store and online, so when Vivino sells alcoholic beverages, they break the law, SVT Nyheter reports.

NFF opens for alcohol serving at football arenas
The Norwegian Football Association (NFF) lifts the ban on selling alcohol to regular supporters at matches. The rule change will take effect already next season. Now it is up to the municipalities to decide, VG writes.

Norway: The oil fund must leave the alcohol industry
Through the Petroleum Fund, Norway has invested billions in the alcohol industry. "We believe the investments are unethical in several ways. They contribute to harmful alcohol use - which is one of five risk factors for non-communicable diseases. Today, cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory diseases, diabetes and mental disorders all together take the most lives in the world," writes Secretary General of Actis Pernille Huseby in Nettavisen. "As an important foreign policy player, we believe that the Petroleum Fund must move in the same direction as the rest of the development policy. It is time to replace investment with a responsible alcohol policy that sees the link between policy and prevention at the local level as necessary."

Alcohol sales banned in Greenland capital during lockdown
Greenland was one of the very first countries to introduce alcohol regulations due to corona situation. 

The sale of alcohol was banned in the Greenland capital, Nuuk, in the end of March in an attempt to reduce violence against children during the period of confinement caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

“In such a situation, we have to take numerous measures to avoid infection,” the prime minister, Kim Kielsen, said.

“But at the heart of my decision is the protection of children; they have to have a safe home.”

Nearly one in three people living in the autonomous Danish Arctic territory suffered sexual abuse during childhood. Experts link the abuse to alcohol, drugs and ignorance of children’s rights, The Guardian reports.

Denmark: Do you drink too much? We take alcohol tests like never before
According to Alcohol and Society, more alcohol is drunk during the corona situation. Ten times as many as usual take the organization's online alcohol test.
The alcohol test, developed by the WHO and recommended by the Danish Health and Medicines Authority, asks you 12 questions about your alcohol consumption, writes TV2.
The test asks, among other things, how often you drink alcohol, whether you have experienced not being able to stop when you have started drinking alcohol, and whether you have experienced having to have a small one in the morning after drinking too much the day before.

Juvente: 13-16-year-olds can buy alcohol far too easily
Last year, Norway´s abstinence organization Juvente sent 1,393 teenagers between 13 and 16 to the store to buy alcohol. 18.5 per cent brought goods with an 18-year age limit, Aftenposten writes.
The results from this year's control report show a slight decrease for 2019 compared to 2018, but Juvente believes it is still far too easy for minors to buy alcohol.

Experts in Finland fear alcohol problems will increase with telecommuting
The teleworking, school closures and quarantines brought about by the coronavirus pandemic have plagued many Finnish families. It is feared that the crisis will exacerbate problems such as drug use and child protection.
"Ordinary social life is frozen and social control is gone. Even people who do not have substance abuse problems may have an increase in drinking. Especially for people who already have alcohol use that violates risk limits, the journey to the substance abuse problem is significantly shorter than for those who use it sparingly," told Terveystalo addiction medicine Medical Director Harri Seppälä to YLE News.


Estonian survey: The share of people who buy alcohol from Latvia has decreased
According to a survey by the Estonian Institute of Economic Research (EKI), cross-border trade began to decline after the reduction of alcohol excise duty in July last year; the share of those who bought alcohol in Latvia fell to 33 per cent last year, the lowest level in three years, Postimees reports.
In 2019, 29 per cent of those who bought alcohol from Latvia will buy more from Estonia than from Latvia after lowering the excise duty on alcohol, and 12 per cent of buyers will now buy only from Estonia and have given up buying from Latvia. Fifty-five per cent of the respondents thought that the reduction of alcohol excise duty would not affect their purchases, and 4 per cent buy even more from Latvia than before the increase in excise duty. 


Lithuania: Increased cases of alcohol poisoning among teenagers, the service sends a warning to parents
The State Service for the Protection of the Rights of the Child notes that the introduction of quarantine due to the COVID-19 virus has led to an increase in alcohol poisoning among adolescents. The service recalled that minors' actions (persons under 18 years of age) are the responsibility of their parents or other representatives in accordance with the law. They should ensure that children not only comply with quarantine requirements but also do not misbehave, Alkas writes.
"The number of reports of alcohol abuse and alcohol poisoning among teenagers is growing. If we usually had one or two such messages a month, now we have eight in four days this week. As we begin to explain situations, it becomes clear that the parents were at work and the children were at home."


The Swedish Addiction Professor: Boredom and loneliness trigger drinking
As the corona pandemic spread across Sweden in April, people were quarantined and practised social distancing to slow down the spread of infection. According to Sven Andréasson, professor of addiction issues at Karolinska Institutet and founder of the addiction clinic, an above situation that is difficult for many can tempt people to drink more alcohol than usual.
"A common reason for drinking or overeating is boredom and loneliness. Being forced to isolate can definitely stimulate such behaviours," he said to Accent.


After a controversy over corona drinking in Denmark: Department will investigate alcohol habits during the crisis
Researchers decided to examine precisely how the closing of society has affected the population's alcohol habits, writes DR. "I can not imagine that we can not look more closely at how the situation affects alcohol consumption. As a society, we have never before experienced that a large number of mechanisms are mixed up in this way," says professor Janne Tolstrup from the University of Southern Denmark.

Iceland: Support from the city in moving alcohol sales to smaller neighbourhood stores
The City of Reykjavík's Environment and Planning Department has given a positive opinion on the Independence Party's proposal, calling on Althingi to abolish the state's monopoly on alcohol sales, as this will strengthen local services in neighbourhoods, reports Stundin. The representatives of Samfylking, Viðreisn and Pírata in the majority also agree with this view. Their statement clearly contradicts WHO's view on what alcohol is, as they are saying: "Wine and other alcohol are consumer goods and the purchase of them is part of the consumption pattern of a large part of the city's residents".

Danish 15-year-olds drink the most in all of Europe
According to a new study by the World Health Organisation, Danish 15-year-olds drink more frequently and are more likely to have been drunk than those from any other country in Europe, reports The Local
According to the report, 82 per cent of Danish 15-year-olds have tried alcohol, compared to 59 per cent on average over Europe as a whole. 
At the same time, 65 per cent of Danish 15-year-olds said they had drunk alcohol in the preceding month, and 42 per cent said they had been drunk at least once. That is roughly twice as many as on average in Europe, as reported by The Danish Institute of Public Health.

Norway: FRP takes up the fight for beer sales at petrol stations
The Progress Party wants to ease Norwegian alcohol rules and again promotes proposals for beer sales at petrol stations and in kiosks. As reported by Nettavisen the party had to endure strict alcohol policy in government with KrF, but now puts forward proposals for more relief for Norwegian alcohol laws. In the new proposal, FRP will «allow the municipalities to say yes to applications for sales licenses, even when the application comes from service trading companies».

Aftenposten editorial: Yes, we love ... a state monopoly!
When FRP party considers changing alcohol monopoly, Aftonbladet concludes that "the constitution and royal house are well and good. But if there is one thing Norwegians really value, it is Vinmonopolet."
When BI Norwegian Business School published its annual popularity rating Norwegian customer barometer, it found that among 153 companies the wine monopoly has gone all the way to the top



Young people drink less in Norway, Finland and Sweden

Young people's drinking has fallen sharply in Finland, Norway and Sweden since the late 1990s. The international ESPAD survey, The European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs, included data from 18,000 male and over 19,000 female schoolchildren aged 15-16. The conclusion is that the three Nordic countries have much in common.


It was quite surprising that these countries are actually so similar, both in terms of the reduction in young people's intoxication and the factors behind it," says Kirsimarja Raitasalo, Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, who is one of the leading researchers behind the study. 


In the last two decades, competition for education, jobs, and leisure activities has intensified. Many young people feel tremendous pressure, which has led to more people feeling that they must avoid risky behaviours such as alcohol, Raitasalo named as one of the reasons for these changes.

Source: Accent Magasin

Finnish Kokoomus party tried to push for a change in the Alcohol Act - Keskusta boss muttered: “Irresponsible under the guise of a serious epidemic”
Kokoomus tried to push for a temporary allowance for the sale of wines in the context of a restaurant subsidy package, but the ruling parties, with the support of the Christian Democrats, overthrew the proposal, Uusi Suomi reported.

Gloomy statistics: in three months, three times more people drowned in Estonia than at the same time last year
From January to March, 16 people drowned in Estonia, which is three times more than during the same period last year. The year has started quite anxiously, because there have not been as many drowners as in the first three months of this year in the last 10 years. Alcohol is still one of the factors contributing to water accidents. More than half of those who drowned were drunk, with the average intoxication being 2.7 per mille and the highest level of intoxication detected being 5.66 per mile, Delfi reported.

Latvia: Contrary to doctors, MEPs conceptually support the sale of alcohol on the Internet
The majority of the Saeima Economic, Agrarian, Environmental and Regional Policy Commission conceptually supported the draft law, which envisages allowing the sale of alcoholic beverages on the Internet, reported Apollo.
Ilze Birzniece, Head of the Health Promotion and Addiction Prevention Division of the Ministry of Health, explained that the Ministry of Health does not support the draft law. The norms included will increase the availability of alcoholic beverages and the risk of delivering drinks to minors.


Changes on the Lithuanian beaches: The Seimas has again allowed the sale of alcohol
The Seimas supported the group's parliamentarians' proposal by a majority of votes to soften the trade of weak alcohol, wrote Lietuvos Rytas. From August, alcohol with a strength of up to 15 degrees became available for sale in non-stationary restaurants located on the beaches. 

Latvia: Minors will be punished for possession of tobacco and alcohol
Minors between the ages of 14 and 18 will be able to be subject to administrative liability for the storage of tobacco products, as well as alcoholic beverages and the use of energy drinks, the Saeima envisaged amendments to the Law on the Protection of the Rights of the Child supported in the third reading on Thursday, June 11.
The annotation of the draft law emphasizes that an administrative penalty is applied to a minor aged 14 to 18 if using a coercive measure of an educational nature has not been useful in the specific case, Latvian Public Media reported.

Estonia: The Riigikogu amended the provision of the Alcohol Act regarding the concealment of alcohol in stores
The Riigikogu amended the Alcohol Act so that the alcohol in the sales hall may be visible behind the seller if the customer does not have access to it, Delfi reports. The amendment to the Alcohol Act allows the alcohol shelves behind the seller not to be hidden.

Wines in the grocery store or not? The question divides the people in two
According to Finns, spirits belong to Alko. According to a recent survey, the issue of allowing the sale of wines in grocery stores divides the people in two. More than half, or 57 per cent, of those surveyed by the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) and Alko consider the current alcohol policy restrictions to be appropriate, YLE News report. The share of supporters is slightly higher than in the previous two years. The clearest question that divides opinions is whether the sale of wines should be allowed in grocery stores. The answers are divided equally between supporters and opponents.

Norway: Now it is easier to drink beer and wine on many trains
When SJ started running trains in Norway from June, there were expanded opportunities to drink alcohol on board.
Until then, Vy's old regime applied to the sections that SJ took over, as a result of the railway reform. This means that it was only allowed to drink alcohol in the bistro car, which has a minimal number of seats. "When it is full there, you have to wait for a vacancy. If you travel with us you will not have to. You will then be able to bring beer and wine from the bistro car back to your own seat to drink up there," commercial director of SJ Norway Lena Nesteby said to Dagsavisen.


Sjøpromillen - the Norwegian paradox
Elisabeth Fjellvang Kristoffersen, Secretary-General of MA - Drug-Free Traffic, argued for a lower alcohol limit for recreational boaters. "Impaired vision, slow reflexes, poorer reaction time and coordination. These are characteristics of 0.8 per mille - and according to the law, it is perfectly fine to drive a boat in such condition." The Norwegian alcohol limit for recreational boat drivers is among the highest in all of Europe," Elisabeth Fjellvang Kristoffersen wrote in SAMFERDSEL. "Even though we have a difficult coast with reefs, islands and islets that make it extra challenging to navigate safely."

Committee on the Petroleum Fund: Will not ban cannabis, alcohol and gambling
The committee that has looked at the ethics of the Petroleum Fund will not ban investments in cannabis, alcohol and gambling. There is no general agreement in Norway that this is unacceptable, according to committee leader Ola Mestad, according to E24

Denmark: Young people have drunk less alcohol during the corona crisis
Young people drink at parties and with friends, so that the assembly ban can be seen on consumption, writes DR. Young people have been drinking less alcohol than usual since society was shut down to curb the spread of the virus, according to a new study from the National Institute of Public Health. Young people drink because of the intoxication - and not to enjoy a glass of wine, says Professor Janne Tolstrup, who is behind the study. "The events where they usually drink alcohol - parties, gatherings with friends and Friday bars - have not been available. And if you take the reason for drinking away, they do not drink," she said.

Editor: Lauri Beekmann, 

Executive director, NordAN