Comprehensive reform of Alcohol Act

Preparation of the comprehensive Alcohol Act reform is proceeding

The political preparation of the comprehensive Alcohol Act reform began in February 2016, when Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services Juha Rehula presented his preliminary proposal to the Ministerial Working Group for the promotion of health and welfare. The preliminary proposal sought a balance between reducing the negative impacts of alcohol and taking into account the related industry.

After that, the government parties' parliamentary groups discussed the preliminary proposal. Certain policies on alcohol legislation were agreed on in May 2016 in further negotiations between the representatives of the groups. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health then continued to prepare the reform. In the beginning of November 2016, the Ministerial Working Group for the promotion of health and welfare discussed the draft government proposal on the Alcohol Act and other related Acts. On 22 November 2016, the proposal was sent to a large number of actors for comment.

The duration of the consultation period is eight weeks. The comments should be submitted to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health by 16 January 2017.  After the circulation for comments, the proposal will be finalised and submitted to the Finnish Council of Regulatory Impact Analysis for evaluation. After this, the government proposal for the new Alcohol Act will be submitted to parliament. The entry into force of the Alcohol Act will be decided on during a parliamentary session. Simultaneously with circulation for comments, a notification procedure for the Alcohol Act will be initiated, in which the European Commission and other Member States will assess whether the proposed legislation is compatible with EU law. The procedure will last no longer than six months, and the legislation may not be approved in Finland prior to completion of the procedure.

Key principles of the reform

Finland's alcohol legislation consists of the Alcohol Act from 1994 and the 13 Decrees laid down based on the Act. The Act and the Decrees laid down on the basis of the Act will be combined during the reform as comprehensively as possible into one law.  

The purpose of the Alcohol Act is to prevent detrimental effects caused by alcohol. The principles of the reform include maintaining Alko's current retail monopoly and the current licensing system, and dismantling all unnecessary, outdated or cumbersome norms included in current legislation. These norms have burdened especially the restaurant industry. Provisions concerning serving hours and customer service at restaurants and bars would be eased.

Changes to retail sale of alcoholic beverages

At present, the retail sale of alcoholic beverages is limited to those beverages that are produced through fermentation and have an alcoholic strength by volume no higher than 4.7%. In the future, the maximum strength by volume of alcoholic beverage sold in retail stores would be increased to 5.5%, and the requirement that the beverage is prepared through fermentation would be eliminated. This would mean that grocery shops, kiosks and petrol stations could also sell strong beers and ciders as well as long drink beverages produced by adding spirits.

Independent breweries and microbreweries would have the right to sell their own craft beers at the brewery in the same way as producers of fruit wine and sahti can sell their products under the current act. Microbreweries could produce up to 500,000 litres of alcoholic beverages. Craft beers would not include beers mixed with soft drinks, for example. The government proposal will be notified to the European Commission for evaluation.

The Act would lay down provisions on the right of the existing stores on wheels to sell alcohol and on new opportunities for Alko to use their own stores on wheels for serving clients.

Currently, Alko stores are open Monday to Friday 9-20. Alko opening hours would be extended by an hour with a closing time of 21. Alko stores would get the right to organise i.e. wine auctions.

Changes to serving alcoholic beverages

At present, restaurants and bars are granted A (all alcoholic beverages), B (wine), or C (beverages that have no more than 4.7 % alcohol) licenses for serving alcohol. In the future, one license would allow an establishment to serve all types of alcoholic beverages. In addition, restaurants could apply for a licence for retail sale of alcohol. The sale would be in accordance with normal retail sale regulations. These regulations include the maximum alcoholic strength by volume of beverages and hours during which retail sale of alcohol is permitted.

Currently, each restaurant or bar must have a "responsible manager or substitute" present, who must meet with specific training and experience requirements. In the future, there would need to be an adult manager present during each shift, but no specific criteria for his/her competence would be specified. At present, restaurant and bar staff must be at least 18 years of age with the exception of waiter students, who must have turned 16. In the future, persons who are 16 years of age could serve alcohol under the supervision of the shift manager.

Currently, serving areas shared by several restaurants are prohibited. In the future shared serving areas would be allowed. The so-called catering permits would allow restaurants and bars to serve alcoholic beverages in pre-approved business premises, the area's party venues and festivals after they have submitted notice of this to the Regional State Administrative Agency.

At present, serving hours end at 1.30 am. Restaurants and bars can apply for a licence for two years from the Regional State Administrative Agencies for extended serving hours until 2.30am or 3.30am, if they have special reasoning. A restaurant or bar must close half an hour after serving hours have ended. This closing requirement would no longer be valid but the served alcoholic beverages should be consumed within an hour after the serving hours have ended.

In the future, serving hours would still end at 1.30am, but a restaurant or bar could continue to serve alcohol until 4.00am at the latest by just submitting a notification on the matter. License procedure would be eliminated, but restaurants and bars would have new requirements for maintaining public order. Additionally, authorities would have the right when necessary to limit or prohibit serving of alcoholic beverages to prevent disturbances and disorder.

Changes to advertising alcoholic beverages

Currently, restaurants and bars are prohibited from advertising Happy Hour discounts. In the future, this restriction would be eliminated.
Currently, only Alko and other retailers are permitted to publish printed or online price listings for spirits. In the future, producers and wholesalers would also be permitted to present their own products, for example in online price lists.

Further information

Ismo Tuominen, hallitusneuvos 
STM, Hyvinvoinnin ja terveyden edistämisen osasto, Haittojen ehkäisemisen ryhmä 0295163341