- Wage increase has made alcohol significantly more available.
- Only 41 percent of vendors check the buyers’ age.
- Domestic sales of alcohol increased during the corona pandemic.
The World Health Assembly in Geneva recently adopted a global strategy to reduce alcohol consumption, but drinking in Estonia has increased in recent years, according to the National Institute for Health Development.
Heli Laarman, Head of the Public Health Department of the Ministry of Social Affairs, told Postimees that the 75th Assembly in May, where Estonia was represented by the then Minister of Health and Labor Tanel Kiik (Center Party), had adopted the strategy already back in 2010. It aims to significantly reduce morbidity and mortality from alcohol abuse, as well as social problems.
According to Laarman, the strategy sets out the principles which should guide the development of alcohol policy, as well as the ten main spheres through which countries would achieve a reduction in morbidity and deaths due to alcohol abuse.
The measures planned in these spheres are also presented in the Green Book published in Estonia in 2014, which Laarman describes as a comprehensive approach to alcohol policy. The book mediates measures recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), such as restricting the availability and promotion of alcohol, preventing the use of illicit alcohol, preventing drunk driving, expanding treatment and counseling for alcohol dependence, etc.
“Illness and premature deaths caused by excessive drinking are preventable,” Laarman said. “According to the health profile of the Estonian state, 39 percent of deaths in 2019 were related to changeable risk behavior – unbalanced diet, tobacco, alcohol, lack of physical activity, with 8 percent being caused by alcohol consumption.” According to her, alcohol policy can achieve results if it is consistent.
The action plan adopted in Geneva includes six spheres together with the activities which the WHO Secretariat and the countries would have to carry out. Estonia has also supported the drafting of this plan.
The Green Book is undergoing a refresher course
Anneli Sammel, head of the alcohol and tobacco department of the Institute for Health Development, told Postimees that the Green Book on Alcohol Policy is a very important document and the measures and policies agreed upon according to it have not lost their relevance to this day. “It is obvious that without clear guidelines in different areas, alcohol consumption would not have decreased,” she emphasized.
The implementation of the alcohol policy and regulatory measures helped bring total consumption per capita to 10.0 liters by 2018 – 4.8 liters less than in 2007. “Unfortunately, the decline has stopped in recent years and has been replaced by a slight increase,” Sammel said.
“In my opinion, significant steps have been taken to improve the situation regarding all measures, although consistency has not been maintained in pricing policy and alcohol is still too easy to obtain,” says Sammel, citing the number of alcohol outlets in Estonia, which has remained unchanged – alcohol can still be purchased in petrol stations and. only 41 percent of attendants check the age limit.
Consumption went up during the corona pandemic
Due to the continuation of restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, purchases from abroad, purchases of tourists in Estonia and alcohol consumption by tourists visiting Estonia decreased, but sales to Estonian residents increased. Revenue from alcohol excise tax amounted to 223 million euros in 2021, which was 12 million euros more than a year earlier, but 5 million less than forecast for 2021. According to Institute of Economic research (EKI), the lower collection of excise tax was caused by a 23 percent decrease in tourists’ purchases of alcohol and local consumption.
Since the excise tax has been stable, alcohol has become increasingly available during the general wage increase, says Marje Josing, Director of EKI. “The long-term closing of catering and accommodation establishments during the pandemic may also have contributed to the growth of consumption, because cheaper alcohol was then bought for home consumption from retail outlets,” Josing added.
“Unfortunately, in recent years Estonia has been moving away from the goal set in the Green Book that alcohol consumption should be permanently less than 8 liters of absolute alcohol per capita. To reduce consumption, we could consider measures making alcohol less readily available and to restrict advertising, especially for the young people. Regarding the excise tax we should consider the neighboring countries so that cross-border trade would not occur again,” Josing says.
According to preliminary data of TAI, 695 people died of diseases directly caused by alcohol abuse in 2021, 76 individuals more than in the previous year. We lost the most lives due to alcohol among working-age people aged 45–64.
“The harm to society from alcohol consumption is far greater than merely the deaths caused directly by alcohol – there are also alcohol-related traffic accidents, violence, social problems, temporary or permanent absence from the labor market due to alcohol-related mental health problems or illnesses. That is why we must work together to stop the rising trend of alcohol consumption and the harms associated with it,” said Minister of Social Protection Signe Riisalo (Reform Party).
The strategy adopted by the Health Assembly does not set a target of zero alcohol consumption.