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How to deal with misuse of different policy examples?

The Tallinn city government is to approve new restrictions that will restrict the sale of alcohol at bars, nightclubs, pubs, casinos and other entertainment establishments beginning October 1, 2020.

When discussing the new alcohol restrictions in Tallinn, different countries and cities have been used as an example, as if the proposed restrictions of the bar/pub alcohol business was something extraordinary. The bill calls for the retail sale of alcohol for consumption on-site to be banned from 2:00 a.m. through 6:00 a.m. on the nights before Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and from 3:00 a.m. through 7:00 a.m. on the nights preceding Saturday and Sunday. Casinos and nightclubs were granted exceptions in the bill, with alcohol restrictions to be set at 3:00 a.m. on weeknights and 4 a.m. on weekends. 

“We will lose our tourists, and the night-time economy will collapse,” they say. “Nobody else is doing something like that,” is claimed. Countries and cities are used against each other. Neighbouring countries are seen only as competitors, and if Riga or Helsinki has more relaxed regulations, they will win, and we will lose. Focus is on the tourism sector. But let’s look around a bit.

On February 24, the mayor of Amsterdam appealed to the Dutch government to adopt the necessary legislative changes so that the capital of Netherlands could restrict alcohol sales to deal with problematic tourists. “The proportion of tourists who come to Amsterdam to party causes a lot of work for the police and enforcement officers: litter, public urination, aggression, noise pollution, and petty crime,” the mayor said in her letter to the city council. “Alcohol plays a major role in nuisance and misconduct.”

The Spanish Autonomous Region of the Balearic Islands (tourist regions such as Mallorca, Magaluf, Ibiza) imposed restrictions on the alcohol business in mid-January this year to curb the growing disorder. The law bans happy hours, free bars and two-for-one drinks parties and makes it illegal to advertise pub crawls. There will be no new licences for party boats and existing boats are banned from operating in designated areas.

Shops selling alcohol that stay open all night will have to close between 9.30 p.m. and 8 a.m. or risk fines of up to €600,000 (£511,000) or the threat of being closed down for three years.

Another example that is misused in the discussion in Estonia is Stockholm.

I asked about Stockholm’s regulations from Kalle Dramstad:

“In Sweden there’s a ‘normal time’ between 11.00-01.00 with some base requirements, outside of that there are stronger requirements. The latest possible time is 05.00 but there only around 6-8 places that have had actually had this approved. These are clubs primarily located in basements and areas with very few residents around (i.e. in the business district, in the harbour, an industrial area).

There are also a number of demands to be met for serving past 01.00:

– A lot of people have to be asked (police, environment and local city boards has to be consulted and their opinion weigh strongly – the police almost categorically tends to say no to very late serving permits due to them taking too many resources)

– Every server has to go through a responsible alcohol serving workshop run by a council-funded organisation

– You can not serve the whole bottles of spirits after 01.00. These needs to be served by portion so that staff can ensure no over-inebriated guests are served.

– For extension past 01.00 you need at least two security guards

There are additional rules for those that want to serve past 03.00:

– The establishment cannot have any previous remarks on their handling of alcohol serving (like warnings for public order or inebriation problems involving them)

– It cannot be in an area where there are risks for nuisance for local residents

– If you get approval for after 03.00, the main rule is that you need at least four security guards. This number can be changed after an individual look at the application, but the main rule usually applies.

– You need to have control over exactly how many that are in the premises.”

In summary, after 1 o’clock, demands get much tougher, and establishments that want to open around the residential areas will most probably be denied. The problem that Tallinn is dealing for many years already is mainly with bars and pubs and how this business causes problems for local residents. People do live in the Tallinna Old Town. 

Another example is Finland. Finland did indeed liberalise its alcohol policy in 2018 as we all know it. This move has been interpreted that Finland concluded that their approach to alcohol has failed. The fact is, however, that, too often, countries are pursuing policies based on worldviews and economic interests, rather than implementing evidence-based policies. So let us make a clear distinction between these different examples, which are policy-driven and which are based on factual arguments and knowledge.

The Finnish institute for health and welfare estimated in 2017 that these policy plans weren’t based on public health interests. Indeed, today, the long-term decline in consumption has stopped, and a small increase has taken place, alcohol deaths and police work have increased. The latest development, also seen as a result of the relaxation of alcohol policy (the release of stronger beer into the grocery stores) came from Hartwall, that the famous 3% Lapin Kulta beer was being taken off production. Sales of stronger drinks have increased. Public health experts consider Finland’s policy changes two years ago to be clearly harmful to public health.

Next, let’s go further, to Australia, which has also been used as an example, where the time restrictions on serving alcohol have recently been lifted. Restrictions that were introduced in 2014 have been considered ineffective and disruptive to the entertainment business. I do not comment on how such regulations affect economic activity, but local and state leaders should always consider these considerations as secondary.

A study analysing the effects of a 60-month restriction on alcohol sales in two Sidney regions was published on February 27 in Addiction magazine. The Sydney lockout laws began at 1:30 a.m. on February 14, 2014. Patrons were no longer able to enter venues after 1:30 a.m. and after 3 a.m. alcohol was permitted from being served. The analysis found that the law brought a reduction in violent attacks by a total of 627 incidents over the next five years; in other words, ten fewer per month.

The experience from Norway also proves the effectiveness of limiting the serving hours.

Experience from Trondheim shows that as much as 70 per cent of the violence between three and four o’clock at night disappeared when the municipality reduced the serving hours by one hour. Police data shows that the violence was not moved to other times or other parts of the city, but that it actually disappeared. 

A broader analysis of 10-year data from 18 municipalities found that one-hour additional alcohol sales increased the incidence of violence by 17%.

In summary, the longer the alcohol is sold, the more problems there are. The number of alcohol sales outlets, the sales times, the advertising and promotion of the offer at the point of sale – all these details affect consumption and the associated problems. Limiting these aspects is likely to affect the profitability of night-time economy. To some extent, for sure. But if societal problems are an integral part of the activities of these businesses, the local government’s interest in curbing it, is justified.

It is also vital that the experience of different countries is interpreted correctly. Conflicting interests will always be there, and they will protect their profits. Let’s use our network and other international partners in getting the correct and evidence-based information that can give the full picture.

Thanks to Kalle Dramstad and Wim van Dalen

Lauri Beekmann
Executive director, NordAN