Comprehensive reform of Alcohol Act

New Alcohol Act entered into force on 1 March 2018

The Alcohol Act was approved by Parliament on 19 December 2017 and by the President of the Republic on 28 December 2017. The new Alcohol Act entered into force on 1 March 2018. Some of the amendments entered into force already on 1 January 2018.

The Act is complemented by the Government Decree on Implementation of the Alcohol Act and the Decree of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health on Enforcement of the Alcohol Act.

Summary of the amendments entered into force on 1 January 2018

The comprehensive reform of the alcohol legislation entered into force on 1 March 2018, with the exception of the following amendments that entered into force already on 1 January 2018:

  • Retail stores can sell all kinds of alcoholic beverages that contain up to 5.5% alcohol by volume
  • Independent breweries and microbreweries can apply for licence to sell craft beer from the regional state administrative agency
  • Restaurants and bars can advertise Happy Hour discounts
  • Opening hours are deregulated for restaurants and bars (but not the serving hours)

More information about the practical arrangements will be issued by the National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health and the regional state administrative agencies.

Steps leading to the comprehensive reform of the Alcohol Act

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 hea4lth 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 for an 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. Parliament adopted the bill on 19 December 2017. The President of the Republic approved the bill on 28 December 2017.

Key principles of the reform

Finland’s alcohol legislation consisted of the Alcohol Act from 1994 and 13 Decrees issued under the Act. The reform will integrate the Act and the Decrees 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

On 1 January 2018, the maximum strength of alcoholic beverages sold in retail stores was raised to 5.5% alcohol by volume, and the requirement for production by fermentation was removed. This means that grocery shops, kiosks and petrol stations can sell also strong beers and ciders and long drink beverages produced by adding strong alcoholic beverages.

As of 1 January 2018, independent breweries and microbreweries 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. Microbreweries will be allowed to produce up to 500,000 litres of alcoholic beverages. Craft beers cannot be produced by mixing beer with soft drinks, for example.

The Act will give the existing stores on wheels the right to sell alcoholic beverages and allow Alko to serve customers in its stores on wheels.

The opening hours of Alko stores will be extended by one hour, from 20 to 21. Alko stores will also be able to organise wine auctions, for example.

Changes to licensed serving of alcoholic beverages

A single serving licence will cover all types of alcoholic beverages. The three types of serving licences (A, B and C) have been abolished as of 1 March 2018. Restaurants or bars will also be able to apply for a licence for retail sale of alcohol. They will be able to sell alcoholic beverages on all days from 9 to 21 according to the same rules that apply to retail stores selling alcoholic beverages.

One designated adult manager must be present during each shift, according to the new Alcohol Act. There will be no specific qualification requirements for the manager apart from a certificate (the so-called Alcohol Passport) confirming that the manager knows the alcohol licensing rules. Persons who are 16 years of age will be allowed to serve alcohol under the supervision of the manager.

Restaurants will be allowed to share serving areas. The system of temporary serving licences will be replaced by a system with less administrative burden. The so-called catering permits will 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.

The regular serving hours still end at 1.30am. However, restaurants and bars can continue to serve alcohol until 4.00am after notifying the regional state administrative agency of the extension. There is no longer any licensing process. However, restaurants and bars have new obligations to maintain public order. Restaurants and bars are no longer obligated to close their doors half an hour after their serving hours have ended. However, they have to make sure that their customers consume their drinks within one hour of the end of serving. The authorities have the power to restrict or prohibit serving of alcohol to prevent public disturbances.

Changes to alcohol advertising

As of 1 January 2018, restaurants have been able to advertise Happy Hour discounts, for example on streets and in newspapers.

Producers of strong alcoholic beverages, wholesalers and restaurants and bars can present their products for example in online price listings.

Other advertising regulations relating to alcoholic beverages will not be amended. The advertising regulations were updated in 2015.

Production of alcoholic beverages

The new Alcohol Act will impose no restrictions on the raw materials used in home production of beer and wine. However, distilling will still be prohibited.

Passenger import of alcoholic beverages

The regulations for import of alcoholic beverages for personal consumption from outside the EEA has been amended as of 1 March 2018. According to Alcohol Act, passengers are required to spend at least 24 hours in the non-EEA country (such as Russia) to have the legal right to import alcoholic beverages.

Further information

Ismo Tuominen, Senior Ministerial Adviser 
Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, Department for Safety, Security and Health / TUTO, Wellbeing and Health Protection Unit / HYT 0295163341