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The Finnish Model And The Need For Change In Scotland


Monday, March 2nd, 2009 The Finnish Model And The Need For Change In Scotland

As far back as (01 11 06) according to the BBC, it has been reported that alcohol has become the leading cause of death in Finland for men, and is a close second for women.

The state statistics released in 2005 showed alcohol killed more people aged 15 to 64 than cardiovascular disease or cancer.

Almost as many women died of alcohol-related causes as breast cancer last year.

Alcohol consumption in the Nordic country has risen steadily over the past 20 years.

It has been estimated that each Finn drank on average the equivalent of 10.5 litres (22 pints) of pure alcohol in 2005.

Alcohol was also found to be a contributory factor in suicides, and intoxication is involved in nearly one in four deaths caused by accidents or violence. Some radical action has been considered necessary in order to reverse this growing process.

In 2004 tax on alcohol in Finland was dramatically reduced, leading to price reductions of up to a third, depending on the type of alcohol.

Health campaigners say alcohol related harm visibly increased within the space of two or three years.

Change in government has lead to two more increases of tax on alcohol, the most recent being a 10% rise in January this year.

Finland has a heavy drinking culture and, like many countries who had a prohibition era, the sale of alcohol is strictly regulated.

Alcohol, containing inexcess of 4.7% alcohol are sold via the monopoly chain of Alko stores. Essentially, in these stores any increase or decrease in government tax is directly passed on to consumers via prices, unlike the UK where retailers often absorb any extra duty imposed by the Treasury. They are not permitted to discount alcohol via special offers.

The National Public Health Institute have been monitoring the response to cheap alcohol. It was identified that after the 2004 reduction, hospital admissions increased by 10% and the number of alcohol related deaths also went up.

Professor Hannu Alho said: “The trend is very very clear, you can see the increase in males and females, especially in young adults. That’s very worrying”.

More recently, in a recent article by Branwen Jeffreys of the BBC (27 02 09) addressing the growing problem in the UK. Such is the extent of the problem that the health ministers in the UK are looking at our Finnish counterparts for some sense of solution.

Notwithstanding the ministers are describing drinking as the new smoking amid rising concern about the price of alcohol in the UK.

Indeed the Scottish government has suggested a range of radical measures to address this very serious issue, including a minimum price per unit of alcohol.

Furthermore, a link between price and consumption is supported by international evidence says the Scottish government, and this includes the recent Finnish experience.

The Federation of the Brewing and Soft Drinks Industry is worried that the more recent tax increases, aimed at limiting the health damage of alcohol, may instead threaten jobs here which depend partly on domestic sales of beer.

Timo Jaatinen, the director of the Federation, says last years 10% tax increase led directly to a similar increase in people bringing in cheap alcohol from Estonia or other neighbouring countries.

He argues price controls are a blunt instrument and the answer is better public health education.

He said: “We have a very long tradition of high alcohol prices but still we have many alcohol-related problems.
“The only way is to change the culture to teach people to use alcohol sensibly.”

In contrast Kari Paaso, a director for addiction related health problems, says while there are no immediate plans for further tax increases back to the pre 2004 level, he believes government policy will have to go further.

He says the link between alcohol price and consumption is accepted by the government, and he is convinced by the need for measures which target the whole population rather than the minority of extremely heavy drinkers.

“I would say this experiment Finland went through of big tax cuts - 33% on average - shows clearly that population-based measures are effective measures. If you decrease prices you increase problems and consumption.”

A similar debate is likely to be heard in the UK in the coming months and years.
What happens in Scotland will be closely watched elsewhere. ‘

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