Alcoholic drinks sold in Finnish retail stores will get slightly stronger from next March, and the maximum alcohol content will be raised from 4.7 percent to 5.5 percent.
In a parliamentary vote on Friday, the supporters of stronger drinks won 98-94. Wines and alcohol stronger than 5.5 percent will remain in restaurants and the stores of the state alcohol retail monopoly stores.
Under the new rules, retail stores can sell, besides strong beer, also strong cider and mixtures that include strong alcohol, known as long drinks.
In a reform in the mid 1960s, medium beer was admitted into food stores, but the rest remained in the monopoly shops and restaurants. When Finland joined the EU in 1995, it was allowed to maintain its state alcohol monopoly in retail.
The decision on Friday was received with dismay among those concerned about the health impact of increased alcohol consumption.
Antti Rinne, leader of the largest opposition party Social Democratic Party, said the new level of alcohol percentage will increase both the health care costs and the need to hire more police officers.
He also reminded that Finland was allowed to keep its alcohol monopoly on health grounds, but as Finnish alcohol policies are becoming more market oriented Finland could lose the right.
The right of Finnish residents to order alcohol as mail order from abroad remains unclear. The High Court in Helsinki has defined “distant sales” as a crime, but there is a complaint pending to the Supreme Court.
The minister for social affairs and health, Annika Saarikko, admitted on Friday the decision was taken against the advice of health experts. She said the government has not denied that more health hazards will be seen.
She said the cabinet would consider making new measures against distant sales. She also pledged support to the state alcohol monopoly stores.