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Comprehensive reform of Alcohol Act

The comprehensive reform of the Alcohol Act is under discussion in Parliament

Parliament will discuss the comprehensive reform of the Alcohol Act during its autumn session in 2017.

The political work on 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 on promotion of health and wellbeing. The preliminary proposal sought a balance between reducing the negative effects of alcohol and taking into account the needs of the industry.

Next, the parliamentary groups of the government parties discussed the preliminary proposal, and key policies regarding the reform were outlined in further negotiations between the group representatives in May 2016. In the beginning of November 2016, the ministerial working group on promotion of health and wellbeing discussed the draft government proposal on the Alcohol Act and other related Acts. The proposal was circulated for comment to all the relevant stakeholders from 22 November 2016 to 16 January 2017, and a summary of the comments was completed in March 2017.

The proposal was finalised in the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. The government proposal on a new Alcohol Act was submitted to Parliament in September 2017.

 The entry into force of the act will be decided during parliamentary discussions.

Key principles of the reform

Finland’s alcohol legislation consists of the Alcohol Act from 1994 and the 13 Decrees issued under the Act. The reform will integrate the Act and the Decrees issued under it into a single Act as comprehensively as possible.

The purpose of the Alcohol Act is to prevent negative effects of alcohol. The reform will maintain Alko’s retail monopoly and the existing licensing system, while dismantling all unnecessary, outdated or cumbersome norms in the current legislation.

Changes to retail sale of alcoholic beverages

At present, the sale of alcoholic beverages by retail stores is limited to beverages produced by fermentation and containing no more than 4.7% by volume of ethyl alcohol. The reform would raise this upper limit to 5.5% by volume of ethyl alcohol and remove the requirement for production by fermentation. 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 distilled alcohol.

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 Act would lay down provisions on the right of the existing stores on wheels to sell alcoholic beverages and on new opportunities for Alko to provide services to customers in its stores on wheels.

At present, Alko stores are open Monday to Friday at 9–20. It is proposed that the opening hours of Alko stores would be extended by an hour to close at 21. Alko stores would also get the right to organise wine auctions, for example.

Changes to serving alcoholic beverages

At present there are three types of licences to serve alcoholic beverages: A (all types), B (wine) and C (beverages containing no more than 4.7% by volume of ethyl alcohol). The reform would introduce a single serving licence covering all types of alcoholic beverages. Restaurants or bars could also apply for a licence for retail sale of alcohol. They could sell alcoholic beverages on all days from 9 to 21 according to the same rules that now apply to retail stores selling alcoholic beverages. Currently, each restaurant or bar must have a ‘responsible manager or substitute’ present, who meets a set of specific training and experience requirements. In the future, there would need to be an adult manager present during each shift, but there would no longer be any specific qualification requirements for the manager.

At present, restaurant and bar staff must be at least 18 years of age with the exception of waiter students, who must be at least 16. In the future, persons who are 16 years of age could serve alcohol under the supervision of the shift manager.

At present restaurants are not allowed to share serving areas. In the future shared serving areas would be allowed. The current system of temporary serving licences would be replaced by a system with less administrative burden. The so-called catering permits would allow restaurants and bars to serve alcoholic beverages in pre-approved business premises, venues and festivals after they have submitted notice of this to the relevant Regional State Administrative Agency.

At present, licenced restaurants and bars can serve alcohol until 1.30am. They can also apply on special grounds for an extended licence allowing them to serve alcohol until 2.30am or 3.30am. These licences are granted by the Regional State Administrative Agency for up to two years at a time. Restaurants and bars must close half an hour after their serving hours have ended. In the future, the regular serving hours will still end at 1.30am. However, restaurants and bars could continue to serve alcohol until 4.00am by notifying the authorities of the extension. There would no longer be any licensing process. However, restaurants and bars would have more obligations to maintain public order, and the authorities could still restrict or prohibit serving of alcohol to prevent public disturbances. Moreover, restaurants and bars would no longer be obligated to close their doors half an hour after their serving hours have ended. However, they would have to make sure that their customers consume their drinks within one hour of the end of serving.  

Changes to advertising alcoholic beverages

Currently, restaurants and bars are not allowed to advertise Happy Hour discounts. In the future, there would no longer be a ban on such advertising.

Only Alko and other retail stores are at present allowed to publish printed or online price listings of strong alcoholic beverages. In the future, even producers, wholesalers and restaurants and bars could present their products for example in online price listings.

Production of alcoholic beverages

At present, private individuals can produce beer and wine at home using a limited variety of raw materials. The new Alcohol Act would impose no such restrictions. However, distilling would still be prohibited.

Further information

Ismo Tuominen, hallitusneuvos 
STM, Hyvinvointi- ja palveluosasto / HPO, Asiakkuus ja toimintaympäristö -yksikkö / ASTO 0295163341