Should wine be sold in grocery shops?

Ministry of Social Affairs and Health 16.10.2015 14.50
News item

An overall reform of alcohol legislation started on 12 October at a workshop called together by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. About twenty different operators discussed their views on the Alcohol Act. Points brought forward included the Alko monopoly, deregulation, the price of alcoholic beverages, liberating sales and regulating advertising. Kari Paaso, Director of Harm Prevention Branch at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, tells about the main issues discussed in the workshop. Haittojen ehkäisemisen ryhmän johtaja Kari Paaso sosiaali- ja terveysministeriöstä palaa vielä työpajan pääaiheisiin.

Text version of the interview

Should the Alko monopoly be maintained or dismantled, and should wine be sold in grocery shops, for example?

"I don't think we should dismantle the monopoly or change the sales regulations. Our alcohol legislation is based on the aim to decrease detrimental effects of alcohol. All research that we know shows the same result: the better the availability is, the greater the consumption and harm are. Therefore I would still let only Alko sell wine."

Should alcohol advertising be liberated or tightened?

"I think it should, above all, be clarified – I mean the provisions should be clearer. Unclear provisions have been a problem when it comes to alcohol advertising. When the existing provisions were drawn up in 1995, they were directly translated from EU acts on advertising audiovisual equipment. Therefore the provisions are now extremely unclear. Additionally, Valvira (the National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health) has written 60 pages of instructions on how to interpret the provisions. The provisions have been slightly clarified during the previous term but a basic clarification is still necessary. It does not have to mean tightening or liberating but making the legal rules clearer."

Should attention be paid to travel import and web shopping from abroad?

"These are important issues, especially travel import, and therefore we monitor the situation closely.  Since 2004, we have used the same method for monitoring travel import. Some people say that the method is not good or that it does not reveal everything. But having used it for 11 years, we already have a pretty detailed picture of travel import to Finland. This means that it is an accurate surveillance method. At the moment, the situation does not seem to be alarming. There's always too much travel import but it has not increased significantly.

Web shopping is an interesting phenomenon. At the end of November, we are expecting a judgment on how we are allowed to restrict web shopping.  If the judgment is similar to what the Advocate-General has stated, we have good chances to intervene in web shopping.

One problem with web shopping is that people should pay tax when they order something from abroad. Web shopping is allowed in Finland but collecting tax is a bit difficult. After we have received the judgment in the EU court case, we can review web shopping issues in connection with alcohol legislation revision."

Which norms connected with the alcohol legislation should be deregulated?

"There's a lot to do. The bureaucracy of our alcohol legislation, or norms, have a long history.  When a new alcohol act was laid down in 1932 after the Alcohol Prohibition Act, the act was meant to give a framework that would allow Alko to draw up stricter rules. When the Alko-centered system was dismantled in 1995, many rules still remained in force. Even today, we follow the old Alko-centered idea that traders are not actually reliable and therefore everything must be regulated in detail.

This is a strict top-down system.  Now we could start to deregulate the Act and rely on that traders follow certain principles in their operation. And if they don't do that, sanctions can be used.  But there's a lot work to be done."

How will the reform of alcohol legislation progress?

"We have been carrying out some groundwork already so we don't need to start from scratch. We arranged an event for interest groups, a workshop, where we asked representatives from the sectors of industry and trade as well as from national health organisations to discuss which issues they agree or disagree on. This gave us a certain basis that is now examined by public servants. In a month or so we are going to invite this same group or even a larger group to check the situation and discuss these issues again.

After that, the preparatory work will continue and in February we should have a Government proposal ready to be sent to a large consultation round. Then there will be notifications to the EU. Probably in May or June the Government proposal could be submitted to Parliament for consideration, and they could discuss it in the autumn of 2016."

Interview: Kimmo Vainikainen
Video: Katariina Vesikko, Kimmo Vainikainen