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Statement on the government proposal for the comprehensive Alcohol Act reform (TAS 364/2016, issued on 11 January 2017)

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health requested that the Ombudsman for Equality provide a statement on the draft government proposal for the Alcohol Act and other related acts to Parliament. According to the proposal, the regulation of serving alcoholic beverages would be eased by making serving hours and the conditions applying to responsible managers of the licensed premises and to serving areas more liberal. The State Alcohol Monopoly’s right to retail trade of alcoholic beverages would be changed by allowing licensed retail sale of all alcoholic beverages containing a maximum of 5.5 percentage by volume ethyl alcohol. The regulation of the opening hours of restaurants would be removed from the Act.

The Ombudsman for Equality stated that it is clear that changes aimed at increasing the availability of alcohol will increase its detrimental effects. The section defining the purpose in the current Alcohol Act (1143/1994) states that the purpose of the Act is to prevent detrimental societal, social and health effects caused by alcoholic substances by controlling the consumption of alcohol. Section 1 of the new Alcohol Act would state that the consumption of alcoholic substances is reduced and the related business activity limited and monitored in order to prevent the detrimental effects caused by alcohol to its users, other people and the whole society. The Ombudsman for Equality pointed out that the proposal conflicts with the above-mentioned purpose.

The proposal brings up the development of alcohol consumption and its detrimental effects in a long and detailed discussion, which clearly shows that deregulation increases alcohol consumption and thus the detrimental effects caused by alcohol, and that increasing regulation has the opposite effect. For example, total consumption has declined as a result of the alcohol tax increases implemented between 2008 and 2012.

The proposal also describes the differences between women and men as consumers of alcohol and subjects of the detrimental effects of alcohol. In the view of the Ombudsman for Equality, making alcohol more easily available would increase the detrimental effects of alcohol for both men and women. Although men continue to drink three quarters of all alcohol, the alcohol consumption of women has grown sixfold since the comprehensive Alcohol Act reform in 1969.

The proposal states that health inequality between different population groups would be likely to increase due to the proposal. The harmful impacts would affect men and lower social groups, in particular. The impacts may particularly affect long-term unemployed people. The number of deaths caused by alcohol consumption among unemployed men has been almost nine times and among unemployed women almost eight times as high as among people in employment. The proposal states that the implementation of the Government’s Action Plan for Gender Equality would become significantly more difficult because of the proposal, as one of its objectives is to improve the well-being and health of men and reduce violence towards women.

The proposal states that “the reform under discussion would be implemented while aware of its impacts.” The Ombudsman for Equality expressed its concern and astonishment about legislation whose impact is in advance known to be contradictory to its objectives.

The Ombudsman for Equality hoped in its statement that serious consideration still be given to whether reducing the “regulatory burden” caused by alcohol legislation and securing the preconditions for “well-functioning competition” mentioned in the proposal are sufficient grounds for the reform, considering its harmful effects, which will affect men in particular.