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.