Scrapping alcohol monopoly ‘would cause death and violence’

Scrapping alcohol monopoly 'would cause death and violence'
Abolishing Sweden's alcohol retail monopoly would cause consumption of alcoholic drinks to rise dramatically, leaving death, illness and violence in its wake, a new report claims. But the Moderate Party's spokesman on alcohol questions says the report is "strange" and that Sweden's alcohol sales system is already broken.

The report was commissioned by the Swedish National Institute of Public Health (Folkhälsoinstitutet), a state body that has long argued for restrictive alcohol legislation.

The institute assembled a group of international researchers to predict the consequences of abolishing the Systembolaget alcohol monopoly and allowing alcohol sales in either licensed liquor stores or in normal grocery stores.

They concluded that if alcohol was sold in 8,000 grocery stores, consumption would increase by 29 percent. This would lead to 1,500 more people dying every year of alcohol-related illnesses or accidents, to 16 million more sick days per year and to 14,000 more reported assaults per year, they said.

Consumption would increase most among young people and people who already drank a lot. The rise would be caused by less effective age checks, lower prices, more stores and more marketing.

“We have tried to make conservative predictions, and it is possible that increases in consumption would be greater,” said Harold Holder, senior research scientist at the Prevention Research Center in Berkeley, California, who led the research group.

The group looked at another scenario, in which alcohol was sold in 1,080 licensed private stores around the country, compared to Systembolaget’s 400 stores. The licensed stores would, according to the scenario, be closed on Sundays, but open 10 hours longer every week than the monopoly stores of today.

The research group concluded that such a move would lead alcohol consumption to rise 14 percent, corresponding to 1.4 litres more pure alcohol per person per year. Such an increase in consumption would lead to 700 further deaths, seven million further sick days and 6,700 assaults.

But Jan R Andersson, Member of Parliament for Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt’s Moderate Party, said the report was “strange,” and ignored the fact that cheap smuggled alcohol was already widely available.

“The report is trying to paint a picture of a potential future situation, but what we have now is a real situation where 17-year-olds can get alcohol around the clock more cheaply than at Systembolaget.”

Andersson said the way to control alcohol abuse in Sweden was to reduce alcohol tax and introduce a limited number of licensed private liquor stores.

“I would like to see responsible alcohol sales in Sweden,” he told The Local.

Andersson was also critical of the way the institute had carried out the study:

“They are misleading people by asking the wrong questions. The question is how we can move from today’s situation to a controlled situation,” he said.