December 9, 2005

Finns pay health price for cutting alcohol tax

HELSINKI (Reuters) - An extra three hundred dead and a more
than 10-percent increase in alcohol-related diseases -- Finland
has paid a high price for cutting its tax on alcohol in 2004,
national health research agency Stakes said on Friday.

Finns drank an average 10.3 liters of pure alcohol in 2004,
up by 10 percent from 2003, Stakes said in an annual review on
the health impact of alcohol on Finns, who have a reputation
for heavy drinking.

The report showed 1,860 people out of a population of 5.2
million died from alcohol-related diseases or incidents in
2004, up 20 percent from 2003. That figure was boosted by a
30-percent rise in death from cirrhosis of the liver.

"The increase in consumption is roughly as big as we had
expected, as is the alcohol-related mortality," said Esa
Osterberg, a researcher with Stakes.

Finland slashed its liquor tax by a third in March 2004,
trying to counter an expected surge in private imports after
neighboring Estonia joined the European Union and to try to
preserve the state monopoly on alcohol.

Stakes said Finland was well aware of the likely health
impact from a tax cut.

Finland's center-left government appointed a working group
in November to evaluate what could be done to reduce
alcohol-related diseases.

Health and Social Services Minister Liisa Hyssala says the
tax should be raised, but the finance ministry opposes the

"If we raise the tax it would lower the domestic alcohol
consumption, but we need to remember that it was a conscious
decision to cut the tax and if we raise it back by a lot,
people will just start importing again," Stakes' Osterberg