Estonia's battle with alcoholism

  • 2008-10-29
  • By Jana Belugina

BOOZE BAN: A new law in Estonia will ban all alcohol advertising in an effort to reduce the country's high alcoholism rate.

TALLINN - "Alcohol is a ubiquitous toxin that can harm almost any system or organ of the body. Beverages which contain alcohol are in essence marketed products, whose identities are built with a complex mix of marketing technologies… and these are currently regulated by both statutory and non-statutory means," claims Enforcement of National Laws and Self-Regulation on Advertising and Marketing of Alcohol (ELSA) in its report on the impact of alcohol advertising.

From the first day of November, a new amendment to the advertising legislation, one that focuses on alcohol advertisements, is taking effect in Estonia. The government is hoping to reduce the drinking problems of Estonian citizens by such measures. Alcoholism is the most wide spread addiction in Estonia and according to statistics every tenth adult is consuming alcohol.

For many years people have been consuming alcohol and not much had changed with times; whether centuries ago or now people are still drinking vodka and whiskey, wine and beer. The production of any alcoholic beverage has been polished over the ages and all possible techniques and tricks are already known.
However, production as such is not the biggest headache for today's alcohol industry 's the actual sales are becoming a much bigger problem.  This is where the marketing department takes action and its biggest tool is, of course, advertising.

Today, people, especially the young, have easy access to any kind of media and are thus being influenced by it. Youths are ready to experiment and try new products, so advertising often targets them first.
As the research by the Enforcement of National Laws and Self-Regulation on Advertising and Marketing of Alcohol project shows "alcohol advertising attracts new drinkers and increases alcohol consumption of others" and "alcohol advertising is effective, it increases consumption and it contributes to a widespread problems for European societies: increasing consumption of alcohol by children and adolescents and increasing victims from the use of alcoholic beverages."

This argument is supported by average consumers like Kristian. "Definitely if I see a new alcoholic drink advertised, and then next time I'll go to shop and see it, I will most likely buy it to try out, even if I was not planning to drink. Simply because I am curious," he said.
A few weeks earlier, famous Estonian psychiatrist Juri Ennet mentioned that he thinks Estonians consume "excessively a lot of alcohol."

"When organizations are saying that they cannot limit alcoholism, it is a lie. It is so big a problem that in order to solve it, it is necessary to create a post of the assistant to the prime minister concerning alcoholism," the psychiatrist said.
From Nov. 1 the external advertisement of strong alcohol will be completely prohibited. Advertising can not posses any visual image of alcohol, be it in a bottle, can, glass or just as liquid.
Moreover, any advertisement will have to contain the medical warning "Attention! You are dealing with alcohol! Alcohol may harm your health!"

At the moment Estonia already bans the broadcast advertising of strong alcohol, introduced last year. These measures, as the government hopes, will help to fight drinking problems in Estonia.
Fighting with drinking problems in Estonia seems to force invention of new restrictions all the time. Earlier this year the government decided to raise excise tax on alcohol and also restrict the sales times 's now it is possible to buy any alcohol all over Estonia from 10:00 a.m. till 10:00 p.m. only. This decision replaced a previous one in which all alcohol sales were from 8:00 a.m. till 8:00 p.m. and only in Tallinn.

"If they are trying to reduce alcoholism, then the new time limits are a much better solution," said the director of grocery shop that sells alcohol as well.
"Now we have bigger alcohol sales, but all are among normal people, buying wine for the dinner and so on. Alcoholics usually come in the morning, so before 8:00 a.m. we used to have a line standing in front of the shop, asking us to sell some cheap vodka, now it is gone," the store owner said.

Also, 8:00 p.m. was a heavily criticized time, because those who are not working and might have a drinking problems, or youth that can be more vulnerable to alcohol, can buy liquor during the day, while working people hoping for a glass of cold beer in front of the TV were forced to run to the shop after work to get there before it stopped selling alcohol.
At a quarter to 8:00, there were huge lines in the shops and an interesting tendency of solidarity, where people that have only the food in their shopping carts let those with alcohol go in front.
Estonia is considered to have one of the highest alcohol consumption rates in both the Baltic states and Europe as a whole.

According to the survey done by Estonian Institute of Economic Research, a few years ago about 86 percent of the adult population, from 16 to 75-years-old, consumed alcohol. Statistics show that in 12 years, Estonia has lost 45,700 people between the ages of 15 and 49 years due to alcoholism 's and this is one of the smallest states in the EU.

Police reports are also quite distressing. In the first half of this year, 18 percent of road accidents have been caused by drunk driving (in 2007 it was 22 percent).
According to Estonian police statistics, 0.6 percent of all drivers on the road are under the influence of alcohol. Considering the statistics of road accidents, the probability of a drunk driver causing a deadly road accident is about 30-40 times more than for the sober one.

In total, in the first half of the year of 2008, 6,562 drivers in a state of intoxication were detained. In the same period last year the number was 7,077. There were 2267 people caught repeatedly driving in a state of intoxication in the first half of the year. In the first half of the year 2007, it was 2,477 persons.
In the beginning of this year, Estonian Minister of Justice Rein Lang, while commenting on the fact of more and more drivers being detained in the state of alcohol intoxication, explained the phenomenon as a national trait and doubted that criminal punishment for drunk driving will solve the problem. Statistics seem to agree with him, and the number of all alcohol related criminal offenses this year has taken second place after theft.
It is obvious that the government has to fight such drinking abuse rates. However, new advertising amendments can create barriers to entry into the market and cause unfair competition among the alcohol producers, as one of them had pointed out.

"This is so unfair to the new alcohol brands, because there is almost no way left, that we can inform our consumers about them. The well-known liquors will be definitely in advantage," claims David, the head of new vodka production company.
"I have no idea how the new products are going to enter the market, this is going to be very hard for them," agrees Diana, the director of an alcohol shop.

Interestingly enough, many countries 's Germany is one example 's adopt a self-regulation tactic in the advertising of alcohol are not known for alcoholism problems. It could be argued that the self-regulation could be the way out of this kind of situation; it would leave both producers happy and consumers healthy.
But it seems that at the moment Estonia's drinking problem is so bad that some strict measures have to be taken, and fast. The economic crisis is not helping it either, because already Estonian psychiatrists are worrying that "increased stress will most probably increase drinking."