Finland’s epidemic of cheap booze

Among working-age Finns, drink is now the leading cause of death

Finland’s epidemic of cheap booze

It’s last call for cheap booze in Finland. Doctors are pressing the government to raise the taxes on alcohol to combat an epidemic of out-of-control binge drinking that has made alcohol the country’s number-one killer.

Over the past decade, alcohol consumption has doubled in Finland. Its citizens now out-drink all of their Nordic neighbours, consuming an estimated 10 litres of pure alcohol a year. In 2005, drinking overtook heart disease and cancer as the leading cause of death among people ages 15 to 64, and since then the problem has only continued to grow. According to Statistics Finland, alcohol-related deaths increased by a worrying nine per cent in 2007 alone and more than 2,000 Finns now die of alcohol-related causes each year.

“We have such detrimental drinking habits,” Kari Paaso, a spokesperson for Finland’s Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, told Russia Today. “We drink to get drunk.”

Health officials say the problem has been growing so quickly because of access to cheap alcohol from neighbouring countries such as Estonia and Russia. Because so many Finns were taking the ferry to Estonia’s capital, Tallinn, to stock up on booze, in 2004 the government slashed the duty on domestic spirits by about 40 per cent. The idea was to keep Finns from leaving the country to buy their booze, but it only succeeded in reducing tax revenues to fund anti-drinking efforts.

Researcher Esa Österberg, of the Alcohol and Drug Research Group in Helsinki, says the country now plans to raise alcohol taxes by 10 per cent. “If we are not increasing alcohol taxes there is no reason why people should decrease drinking,” she says. But whether making booze more expensive helps to solve the problem—or just gives people a financial hangover—remains to be seen.