What do you think about Sweden's alcohol policy?
The Local · 5 Nov 2008, 14:08
Published: 05 Nov 2008 14:08 GMT+01:00
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The word “harsh” comes to mind. It’s not so much that once again I’m too young to buy alcohol, it’s the strict hours and high tax that make me cringe when I think of Systembolaget. I was going to a friend’s place for dinner the other night and I thought it would be nice to bring a bottle of red.
Then bam - it hit me: 1) I’m 19, 2) it’s 7.30pm and 3) I don’t think the 64 kronor I had with me would give me a decent enough bottle to bring. Even though I long for the day I can legally skip down to Systembolaget, I can see the advantages of prolonging the drinking age to keep us kiddies fit, healthy and all the rest.
I just hate the fact that you can no longer be spontaneous about buying booze. Let’s be a bit stereotypical here: I’m Australian and therefore laid back (lazy and unorganised), so I can see why it’s essential for Swedes to be anal about time. If you don’t plan well you’ll be spending a liver-happy, alcohol free night.
Swedish policy on alcohol has been very restrictive for years and even though the EU has forced us to open the market up for competition, we still have a state-sanctioned monopoly in the retail sector.
What have we gained from this? Not very much to date. In the early 90s it looked good and we didn't consume much, but today we're seeing quite high levels of alcohol intake per capita again.
I think the whole market should be opened up to more actors, but I'm not sure other Swedes would agree with me as most seem to have a mixed view.
On the one hand, they think it's fine that the state controls and taxes alcohol to limit abuse, and on the other hand they want to get wasted quick, cheap and wherever they're at.
Okay, I won't lie. You are running late to dinner with your friends and you wish you could just run in to a grocery store or, in my case, the local Trader Joe's for a merlot and… bam, we're not in Kansas anymore kids!
The state-run monopoly closes at three on Saturdays, so unless part of your Saturday ritual includes making a stop at the Systembolaget you are out of luck.
It took a bit of getting used to, but I have to say that I agree with the implementation of Sweden's strict alcohol policy. People may balk about freedom from undue taxes and the right to purchase alcohol from anywhere they choose, especially in the context of the European Union, but the underlying principles should be considered as well.
The basis of the strict policy is to prevent alcohol abuse which can lead to a whole onslaught of other societal woes.
The state's policy towards alcohol largely reflects Swedish society's attitude towards alcohol – ambivalent and, occasionally, hypocritical.
On the one hand, alcohol is recognised as an important "social lubricant" for a generally shy society.
On the other hand, a strongly Lutheran morality fosters a sense of shame about alcohol.
On the one hand, the Swedish state has one of the strictest drink-driving limits in the world, however, it is fine to drive while talking on a mobile phone (which has been proved to be as dangerous as being drunk) – but hey, talking is not a sin!
Whilst the state, through the Systemet monopoly and high taxes, is trying to reduce alcohol consumption, canny punters are simply switching to cheap and nasty moonshine, importing lakes of cheap Polish beer and binge drinking on the Finland ferry. Treat people like children and they will behave like children!
I find it a bit confusing. On one hand, when you turn 18 you can go to a local pub and purchase high power beer, but you cannot buy that same beer at the Systembolaget. Which brings up another point, why is it only in those stores that you buy high power beer?
Granted, that beer is much stronger than what I was able to buy in the States, but it seems a little odd that low power beer can be purchased in any store.
The Systembolaget monopoly is the state’s key policy tool. This monopoly of stores with limited opening times is inconvenient and against the EU principle of free competition.
It does, however, have some great advantages: for example, being one of the biggest wine buyers in the world, Systembolaget offers wine at very competitive prices. The staff are very professional - a life saver when you stand there with dinner planned and no idea what wine to serve.
In addition, for the knowledgeable buyer, Systembolaget really does have the one of best ranges of wine and spirits on offer in the world.
In terms of personal experience, since returning to Sweden from living in the UK, my consumption of alcohol has reduced drastically because one cannot just pop in and buy a bottle of wine from the bottle shop next door. Hence, from a public health perspective, it does work.
Excessive alcohol consumption is harmful both to society and the individual. I am sure we can all agree on that. Indeed, a couple of years ago Stockholm and Lund universities did a study that showed that alcohol consumption costs Swedish society 20.3 billion kronor a year.
Therefore it makes sense to tax people who consume alcohol in order to cover the gigantic costs. The Swedish system achieves this.
In my opinion, this is more preferable than covering the shortfall using ordinary tax money, something that is done in Serbia where I come from.
Having a national agency that is not focused on profit ensures that people who want to drink moderately will be able to do so at reasonable prices, while those wishing to binge drink will find it expensive.
The only problem with the whole system is that it is exposed to profit driven competition from neighbouring countries. In my opinion principles of free trade should not apply to alcohol since that makes it extremely difficult for any country to regulate it and its potentially dangerous effects.
Well well. To start with I do not agree with the Systembolaget institution. I believe that the main reason for its existence is profit.
I understand of course that if alcohol were sold as in other countries the percentage of consumption would increase significantly in the first years but then it would be normalised.
I think that the sense of "forbidden" or "limited access to" makes alcohol more attractive.
As a consumer I feel embarrassed every time I go to Systembolaget even to buy some wine for cooking purposes. I think that others see me as an alcoholic.