NordAN raised cross-border issues at EHYT´s conference in Helsinki

NordAN had a workshop on cross-border issues at the Annual Conference for Substance Abuse Prevention ‘Päihdepäivät’ last week in Helsinki.

Organised by NordAN member organisation EHYT and the Network for Preventive Substance Abuse Work, Päihdepäivät gathers annually around 1000 social- and health professionals and volunteers to take part in 30 different seminars.

NordAN´s workshop had three speakers: Nijolė Gostautaite Midttun, president of the Lithuanian Tobacco and Alcohol Control Coalition; Kalle Dramstad, European Policy Officer at IOGT-NTO and Lauri Beekmann, Executive director of NordAN.

Nijolė Gostautaite Midttun introduced most recent alcohol control policy changes in Lithuania, with most impressive being an extensive ban on alcohol advertising and increase of legal purchase and consumption age, followed by significant excise tax increases and restricting retail hours. The overall focus of the presentation was varied and relentless influence exerted by the international alcohol industry on the government of Lithuania. The examples included the 2009 letter from then Norwegian Oil giant Statoil, threatening with mass redundancies if alcohol sale will be banned in petrol stations, hijacked social responsibility campaigns, alcohol industry CEOs meeting country leaders and recent very public cooperation between DnB and Danske banks with alcohol producers in advertising non-alcoholic beer in marathons. The presentation reflected on the fact that the measures mentioned above resulted in significant tax revenue increase and reduction of alcohol consumption and related harm. United response towards international alcohol industry pressure was called for in the form of international regulation.

After briefly covering the basics of the upcoming EU-election, Kalle Dramstad went through the different ways in which EU-policy affects national alcohol policy to explain how the election could impact alcohol regulation.
He spoke of cross-border issues concerning taxation, marketing and availability of alcohol and the different political approaches that exist for tackling this. He concluded that regardless of whether you want more EU or less EU, you need to have an answer to how the EU can better prevent and reduce alcohol-related harm. Either, by stronger EU-rules, by removing barriers to national action, or a mix of both.

Lauri Beekmann addressed the challenges that cross-border trade causes to alcohol policy in Finland, Estonia and Latvia by pointing out that the goal for well-functioning alcohol policy shouldn´t be just introducing new regulations but also to keep a positive policy climate for continuous implementation. He approached the topic through the example of Estonian health minister from 2017, Jevgeni Ossinovski, who raised cross-border alcohol issues as one of the priority themes for Estonian EU presidency which resulted in Council Conclusions on the matter. Beekmann showed how as a result of steep alcohol excise tax increases in 2017 in Estonia a booze rally to Latvia exploded and put the whole alcohol policy under sharp criticism. The new Estonian government is planning these days to reduce alcohol taxes, possibly from July this year.
Beekmann stressed that a new kind of economic operators, Estonian businesses that operate right at the Latvian border, in some cases at the old border control buildings, are misusing weak EU regulations to undermine national health-oriented policies. He ended by reminding that EU Council Conclusions but also Baltic Assembly´s resolution from 2018 raised the importance of cooperation between countries to tackle these issues and protect national policies that are there to decrease alcohol-related harm.

Presentations can be found here:
Nijolė Gostautaite Midttun
Kalle Dramstad
Lauri Beekmann