More support for strict alcohol laws

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You’d never guess it after seeing the crowds in Strømstad, the Swedish border town where booze costs much less than in Norway, but a new survey indicates that more Norwegians now support their country’s strict laws regulating the sale of alcoholic beverages. A solid majority still thinks alcohol is too expensive, however, while another survey confirms that most Norwegians frown on outward displays of wealth.

On an ordinary Saturday last October, security guards had to restrict entry into the local Swedish liquor retailer System Bolaget in Stømstad, a border town about a two-hour drive south of Oslo. The parking lot was jammed with Norwegian-registered cars, and even though there now are two retailing outlets in Stømstad, the crowds were so big that customers were forced to line up outside in the cold before being allowed into the store.

System Bolaget is also under state-control, like Vinmonopolet in Norway, but the punitive taxes on alcohol in Sweden (which is a member of the European Union) are far less than in Norway. So many Norwegians flock over the border to buy beer, wine and liquor at prices as much as 40 percent lower than in Norway. They tend to do a lot of other shopping at the same time, because many other goods are nearly half-price as well, thanks also to favorable currency exchange rates.

For many Norwegians, shopping in Sweden is a means of “beating the system” in addition to simply saving money — akin to a protest action against the high prices in Norway. A new survey conducted for Norwegian health authorities and reported in newspaper Aftenposten , however, suggests that support for Norway’s restrictive alcohol laws has grown a bit.

In 2005, fully 75 per cent of Norwegians questioned said they thought alcohol prices were too high in Norway. Now 59 percent think the same. Seventy-one percent thought grocery stores should be allowed to sell wine, now that figure is down to 61 percent. Only 19 percent think Norway’s ban on alcohol advertising should be lifted (compared to 25 percent in 2005). While 57 percent though it was okay for Norwegians to bring more booze into Norway than the quota allows, only 46 percent do now.The numbers in the new survey, conducted by state researchers at SIRUS (Statens institutt for rusmiddelforskning) , can help justify the ongoing attempts of state authorities and anti-alcohol groups to control consumption in Norway. Consumption has risen despite the punitive taxes, likely because of growing affluence in recent years, and “maybe more people have experienced alcohol’s dark side,” suggests researcher Elisabeth Storvoll.

She told Aftenposten that greater purchasing power in Norway has made alcohol relatively cheaper, while Vinmonopolet has opened many more retail outlets, and that can also have reduced opposition to price regulation. Vinmonopolet recently won high marks in another survey of government services.

Yet another survey, meanwhile, suggests that most Norwegians frown on outward displays of wealth. The survey, conducted by Norsk Monitor/Synovate and reported in newspaper VG this week, showed that 48 percent answered “no” when asked whether it was fine for wealthy individuals to use tens of millions on kroner on purchases of holiday homes, luxury cars or private jets. Only 16 percent said it was fine, while 35 percent didn’t care.

“There’s less and less acceptance for social distinctions and more support for social democratic likeness,” claimed Erik Dalen of Synovate Norge. He’s not sure whether the response, though, is linked to idealism or pure envy.