Tough liquor laws retain support

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Even though Norwegians crowd into the tax-free shops at local airports and flock over the border to buy cheaper wine and liquor in Sweden, they apparently want to hang on to their restrictive wine and liquor laws. More than half think Norway’s punitive taxes on alcoholic beverages should remain unchanged, and an overwhelming majority support the state-controlled monopoly on retail sales, Vinmonopolet.

Norway's state-controlled stores selling alcoholic beverages reflect restrictive policies but retain support among the public, not least for their large selection, information and customer service. PHOTO: Wikipedia

Norway’s state-controlled stores selling alcoholic beverages reflect restrictive policies but retain support among the public, not least for their large selection, information and customer service. PHOTO: Wikipedia

The survey, conducted by TNS Gallup for the Norwegian Policy Network on Alcohol and Drugs (Actis), showed that fully 74 percent of Norwegians want to retain the nationwide chain of Vinmonopolet stores. Just over 50 percent think their opening hours should remain as they are (closing at 6pm on weekdays and 3pm on Saturdays, for example) while 33 percent think opening hours should be expanded.

The survey also showed that 79 percent of Norwegians want to maintain a ban on advertising for any drinks containing alcohol. On 18 percent approve of commercial promotion of beer, wine or liquor.

Norwegians also seem to accept the relatively high prices they must pay for alcoholic beverages at home, with 53 percent responding that current tax levels on alcohol should remain unchanged. The survey showed that 10 percent think the taxes should be increased while 32 percent said they should be reduced and 5 percent were unsure.

Actis chairman Arne Johannessen, best known as a labour leader and representative for police officers who says he doesn’t drink himself, claimed the survey results show little voter support for more liberal alcohol policies in Norway. Instead of introducing new initiatives to allow wine to be sold in grocery stores, for example, Johannessen said politicians should concentrate on improving programs to combat alcoholism and drug addiction.

The survey results, however, run contrary to the ever-growing sales at airport tax-free stores and the huge increases seen in cross-border trade in recent years. Wine in Sweden, for example, can sell at prices that are 40 percent less than in Norway, and that attracts hordes of Norwegian shoppers to border outlets of Sweden’s own state-controlled wine and liquor monopoly Systembolaget.  That suggests that Norwegians don’t always behave in line with how they answer surveys, and some non-socialist politicians still want to ease some aspects of the country’s anti-alcohol policies.

While most politicians also want to maintain the state-controlled retail system, which is often praised for good customer service and information, the Conservative Party (Høyre) wants to end the policy of closing Vinmonopolet outlets on the days before public holidays and allow for “mini-Vinmonopolets” to open in separate areas of grocery stores in towns lying far from an ordinary Vinmonopolet outlet. The Progress Party also wants to expand Vinmonopolet’s opening hours while several other parties including Labour don’t want to make any reforms that would weaken Vinmonopolet’s position.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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