Nanny State? Sweden ranked ‘second worst’ for boozing

Finland has topped a league table of the most tightly regulated places in the EU to eat, drink, light up or vape, with Sweden coming a close second.

Nanny State? Sweden ranked 'second worst' for boozing
Cocktails with the girls or guys don't come cheap in Sweden thanks to the EU's highest spirit taxes. Photo: Simon Paulin/Image Bank Sweden
Sweden earned its spot near the head of the list thanks to having the highest spirits duty in the EU and among the biggest taxes on beer and wine.
The ranking, called the Nanny State Index, looked at how much of an influence European governments have on their citizens' drinking, smoking and eating habits.
Sweden's state-run off licence monopoly and ban on alcohol adverts on radio and TV networks or billboards also played a key role in the Nordic country's high ranking, according to the report, alongside its ban on television advertising that is perceived to be aimed at children, including some food commercials.

Swedes enjoying (expensive) wine in a restaurant. Photo: Miriam Preis/Image Bank Sweden
The index was put together by the European Policy Information Centre (EPC), a non-profit think tank that aims to engage debate about the future of Europe. For the Swedish section of its research it partnered up with Timbro, a market liberal Nordic think tank.
“Sweden has a reputation for being restrictive and is one of most restrictive when it comes to alcohol,” Timbro researcher Mattias Svensson told The Local.

But, he said, the country hadn't tightened restrictions on alcohol since 1982, and had gradually become more liberal over the past three decades.

“Since then we’ve abolished five out of six monopolies on imports, exports and so on. There’s just the retail monopoly left and even that’s getting more generous opening hours and more options.”
Despite coming only second to Finland in the overall ranking, the index noted that Sweden currently has more liberal regulation of tobacco than many other European countries, although the present Social Democrat-Green government is pushing to tighten this.
“Cigarette advertising is banned outright but snus, a smokeless tobacco product, can be marketed and is taxed at a lower rate. Sweden is the only EU country in which snus can be bought thanks to an exemption it negotiated when joining the EU in 1995,” said the report.
“Sweden’s smoking ban is extensive but does allow for separate, ventilated smoking rooms. There is no ban on cigarette vending machines, no graphic warnings and no retail display ban,” it explained.
The report noted that despite having more relaxed smoking rules than countries including the UK, France and Ireland, Sweden has the lowest rate of smoking in the EU.
“Swedes smoke less than almost any other population but other countries have much more bans on smoking, so it can’t be the ban which makes people smoke less,” commented Svensson.

“Bans do work in some sense, but this is not clear cut. In Sweden we haven’t banned oral tobacco (snus), and we are the only world population to have fewer male smokers than female smokers, with many males using snus, which is much less harmful than smoking. So having one ban less actually makes the population healthier.”
The index also gave Sweden a high score for limiting access to e-cigarettes. They are currently effectively banned because they are classified as medical products, however last month Sweden’s Supreme Administrative Court ruled that e-cigarettes questioned this description, preventing the Medical Product Agency’s ability to ban them in future.

A woman with a 'snus' under her lip. Photo: Robert Henriksson/SvD/TT
Elsewhere in the Nanny State Index, the UK came third, while the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Germany were among the bottom four.
Svensson told The Local he was surprised that such “advanced” European countries were so far behind the Nordics.
“They have few restrictions which is surprising because they are well-off countries and you don’t get terrified at the prospect of going there, they’re well functioning societies,” he said.
“Usually people say that only backward countries haven’t imposed those regulations yet because they aren’t as advanced.”
Finland was ranked the worst place in Europe due to its special taxes on sweets, chocolate, ice cream and fizzy drinks, alongside high duties on cigarettes and alcohol.
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CHECKLIST: Here’s what you need to do if you move away from Sweden

What authorities do you need to inform before you leave, are you liable to Swedish tax and how can you access your Swedish pension? Here's a checklist.

CHECKLIST: Here's what you need to do if you move away from Sweden

Tell the relevant authorities if you’re leaving for more than a year

If you’re planning on leaving Sweden for more than a year, you will have to let the authorities know. The main authorities in question are Skatteverket (the Tax Agency) and Försäkringskassan (the Social Insurance Agency).


You have to tell Försäkringskassan when you leave so they can assess whether or not you still qualify for Swedish social insurance. As a general rule, you aren’t eligible for Swedish social insurance if you move away from Sweden, but there are exceptions, such as maternity or paternity benefits if you’re moving to another EU country.

This also applies to any family members who move with you – any over-18’s should send in their own documentation to Försäkingskassan about their move abroad. If you’re moving abroad with anyone under 18, you can include them in your own report to Försäkringskassan.

If both legal guardians are moving abroad together, both need to include any children in their application. If one legal guardian is moving abroad and the other is staying in Sweden, you need the guardian staying in Sweden to co-sign your application. If you are the sole legal guardian of any under-18’s travelling with you, you don’t need any documentation from the other parent.

You can register a move abroad with Försäkringskassan on the Mina sidor service on their website, here (log in with BankID).


If you are moving abroad for a year or longer, you also need to tell the Tax Agency. This also applies if you were planning on moving abroad for less than a year but ended up staying for longer.

If you move to another Nordic country, you will also need to register your move with that country’s authorities if you will be there for six months or more. You’ll be deregistered from the Swedish population register the same day you become registered in another Nordic country’s register.

This doesn’t mean that you’ll lose your personnummer – you’ll still be able to use it if you ever move back to Sweden – but you will no longer be registered as resident in Sweden.

Similarly to Försäkringskassan, you will also need to report any children you are bringing with you, and both legal guardians must sign the form, whether or not both guardians are moving abroad or not.

In some cases, you may still be liable to pay tax in Sweden even if you live abroad – particularly if you are a Swedish citizen or have lived in Sweden for at least ten years. This could be due to owning or renting out property in Sweden, having family in Sweden, or owning a business in Sweden.

You can tell the tax agency of your plans to move abroad here.

Contact your a-kassa, if relevant

If you are member of a Swedish a-kassa (unemployment insurance), make sure you tell them that you’re leaving the country. As a general rule, you have unemployment insurance in the country you work in, so you will most likely have to cancel your a-kassa subscription.

If you are moving to another country with the a-kassa system, such as Denmark or Finland, it may pay to wait until you have joined a new a-kassa in that country before you cancel your membership in Sweden.

This is due to the fact, in some countries, you only qualify for benefits once you fulfil a membership and employment requirement. In Sweden and Denmark, you must have been a member for 12 months before you qualify. In Finland, the membership requirement is 26 weeks.

If you qualify for a-kassa in Sweden before you leave the country, you may be able to transfer your a-kassa membership period over to your new a-kassa abroad and qualify there straight away, but this usually only applies if your period of a-kassa membership is unbroken.

Check what applies in your new country before you cancel your membership in Sweden – your a-kassa should be able to help you with this.

Contact your union, if relevant

Similarly, if you are a member of a Swedish union or fackförbund, let them know you’re moving abroad.

If you’re moving to another Nordic country, they might be able to point you in the direction of the relevant union in that country, if you want to remain a member of a union in your new country.

If you’re moving to another EU country, you may be able to remain a member of your Swedish union as a foreign worker with the status utlandsvistelse.

If you chose to do this, you will usually pay a lower monthly fee than you do in Sweden, and they can still provide assistance with work related issues – although it may make more sense to join a local union in your field with more knowledge of the labout market.

If you don’t want to be a member of a union in your new country and don’t want to be a member of a Swedish union, you should contact your  union and ask them to cancel your membership.

Collect relevant documents regarding your Swedish pension

If you have worked in Sweden and paid tax for any length of time, you will have paid in to a Swedish pension. You retain this pension wherever you move, but you must apply for it yourself.

To do so, you will need to give details of when you lived and worked in Sweden, as well as providing copies of work contracts, if you have them. If you have these documents before you leave Sweden, make copies so that you can provide them when asked.

If you move to the EU/EES or Switzerland, you may also have the right to other, non-work based pensions, such as guarantee pension for low- or no-income earners, or the income pension complement (inkomstpensionstillägg).

Currently, you can receive your Swedish pension once you turn 62 – although there is a proposal in parliament due to raise pension age to 63 for those born after 1961 from 2023, so this may change.