Surveys on alcohol consumption show no major changes in recent years except for youth alcohol consumption which has declined extensively and Iceland has been ranked amongst the lowest adolescent consumers of alcohol in Europe, according to studies.
In 1998, 42% of 15 to 16 year old Icelanders had become drunk during the past 30 days whereas in 2014 only 6% of students report the same. Daily smoking and the use of cannabis has also decreased dramatically.
Source: UNGT FÓLK 2014 – GRUNNSKÓLAR: Menntun, menning, félags, – íþrótta- og tómstundastarf, heilsa, líðan og vímuefnaneysla unglinga í 8., 9. og 10. bekk á Íslandi. Pages 69-76.
Surveys on adult drinking show no major change. In 2007, 94,9% said in a survey that they had sometime during their lifetime used alcohol, whereas in 2012 the ratio was 95,9%.
Frequent drinking and binge drinking has declined slightly during these years, but number of occasional drinking increased a little instead.
Source: http://www.landlaeknir.is/servlet/file/store93/item22830/Framkvaemdaskyrsla_2012_loka.pdf. Pages 119-124.
After the financial crises of 2008, alcohol consumption decreased, probably due to decreased purchasing power and increased alcohol taxes. Alcohol consumption is now slowly increasing again peaking in 2015 and with a slight decrease in 2016.
Looking at a longer period alcohol consumption has risen quite a significantly. According to Statistics Iceland consumption of alcoholic beverages based on sales figures in Iceland was 2,015 thousand litres of pure alcohol in 2016 compared with 1,324 thousand litres in 2000 and 716 thousand in 1980.
Source: Statistics Iceland (21 June 2017)
There is a fairly good political acceptance of the present alcohol policy in the country. Governmental and parliamentarian policy papers introduced and/or adopted in recent years rank alcohol among major health and social issues which should be tackled and no laws have recently been adopted which undermine or weaken the basic cornerstones of present policy.
The only threat is the parliamentary bill currently in the system proposing the abolition of the State’s monopoly on sales of alcohol and extending the right to sell alcohol to all retail outlets. The bill has found an extensive opposition from civil society and also from different institutions like for instance the Ombudsman for Children. “Many studies have shown that freer access to alcohol increases consumption, which in turn has significant negative consequences for children, their families, and society as a whole,” reads the Ombudsman’s official feedback on the bill.
The tax on alcohol has increased several times since 2008. The first tax rise came when alcohol tax was put up by 12.5 percent from December 15th 2008, then by 15 percent from May 29th 2009 and by a further 10 percent from January 1st 2010. This time, there was an additional four percent tax charged on beer and wine and one percent more on spirits. The tax was also raised by 5, 1% (average) January 1st 2012 and 3% in beginning of 2014.
In September 2008 the due of for a calculated centiliter of the alcohol spirit in wine was 52,8 ISK. According to the state budget for 2017 (with additional raise of 4.7 percent) it will become 106,8 ISK, which results in a 102% raise.
The tax system explained with an example of Vodka looks like this: It is ISK 7,300 (USD 65, EUR 62), 94 percent of which goes to the Icelandic state. Only ISK 434, goes to the producer or the importer. The rest is divided as follows: alcohol tax is ISK 5,419; bottle deposit is ISK 20; Vínbúðin, the state-run liquor store, gets ISK 705; and value added tax is ISK 724.
Sources: Iceland Review and Ice News
According to a survey conducted in May 2013, 56% were satisfied with the current system of alcohol sales in Iceland.
A survey from October 2014, carried out by Fréttablaðið newspaper, reveals that 67 per cent of Icelanders are opposed introducing new laws that allow sale of wine and beer in grocery stores; 30 per cent are in favor.
The ground for the survey was a MP bill submitted to parliament (Alþingi) in September 2014. The bill, if passed, would permit the sale of alcohol beverages in private shops instead of only in The State Alcohol and Tobacco Company of Iceland (ÁTVR) stores in the country as it is now. Similar bills have been submitted and ,,killed“ six times before.
In 2016 a new poll, conducted by Fréttablaðið, Vísir and Stöð 2, showed that some 62% of Icelanders are against alcohol being sold in private shops and grocery stores, while 38% were in favour. When all responses are taken into account, 35% said they supported the sale of beer and wine in food stores, while 56% were opposed, and 9% were undecided. The results show a distinct change from the last time a poll was done on the subject, last November, when 47% of respondents were against the sale of alcohol in private shops, while 41% supported the idea, and 12% had no position on the matter. Source: The Reykjavik Grapevine.
In October 2015, NordAN General Assembly adopted a resolution stressing that the monopoly system is an important corner-stone of Iceland´s effective alcohol policy. NordAN “strongly urges members of the Icelandic Parliament, Alþingi, to veto the bill proposing the abolition of a public monopoly on sales of alcohol and authorizing the right to sell alcohol at all retail outlets which is now being dealt with by the Parliament.”
The bill continues in the Parliament and was lastly (March 2016) approved by a majority of members of the Icelandic Parliament (‘Alþingi’) General Affairs Committee. The bill received the endorsement of a cross-party majority of committee MPs and moved on to Alþingi for further legislative processing.
“It did not surprise that the majority of the Committee of Judicial Affairs and Education approved the „alcohol bill“,” said Arni Einarsson, NordAN board member from Iceland. “The committee consists of nine members, thereoff are four of them among the movers of the proposal. It is of course a matter of question why all the evidence based information and arguments provided against the bill and the strong opposition on behalf of all those working in the field of public health, health promotion, prevention and child and youth affairs has so little weight in the minds of these “public servants“. In addition all recent polls show that a majority of Icelanders do not want to change the system regarding retail sale of alcohol.”
Marketing and advertising
While article 20 of the current alcohol laws bans totally advertisement of alcohol beverages, the alcohol industry has found and uses loopholes regarding beer – for example by advertising low alcohol content versions with same firm brand and trademarks. Advertising was common in newspapers but when police put focus on editors instead of the industry they have decreased but increased in TV instead. Are also not uncommon as sponsors on radio programs and are seen in sports arena, especially football areas.
Alcohol policy strategy
There is available a comprehensive policy on alcohol- and drug prevention until 2020 adopted by the government in 2014. The first alcohol action plan based on this policy was supposed to be introduced in 2014. It has not yet been launched.
Main topics of the policy are:
To limit access to alchol and other drugs
Protect vulnerable groups against negative influences caused by alcohol and other drugs
Prevent young people from starting to use alcohol and other drugs
Reduce number of those who develop harmful use of alcohol and other drugs
To ensure integrated service based on best knowledge and quality for people with alcohol and drug problems
To reduce number of deaths caused by alcohol and drugs.
The policy also emphasizes the necessity of public health perspectives when decisions are made concerning alcohol and drugs and the importance of activating the whole society in awareness and solidarity for actions taken regarding alcohol and drugs.
In addition to this there are clear cornerstones in alcohol policy in Iceland confirmed by laws and regulations like:
Monopoly for off-premise sales for strong beer, wine and spirits;
20 years minimum legal age limits for on- and off-premise sales for beer / wine / spirits,
High alcohol tax;
Maximum 0,05 promille legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) when driving a vehicle;
Ban on alcohol advertising.
Recent policy papers concerning or including alcohol related issues show no indications of changing these cornerstones, except a MP bill submitted to the parliament in September 2014 which has not been passed yet.
Iceland has a long history and tradition of non-governmental non-profit organizations working in various fields. Many are engaged in health and social welfare, sports and education. Some have formed coalitions or networks around certain issues to strengthen their efforts and position. One of these networks is Cooperation Council for Alcohol and Drug Prevention in Iceland – Samfo. Samfo is a cooperative platform for more than twenty national NGO‘s in Iceland. The aim of the cooperation is to activate and strengthen cooperation between non-governmental organizations which support an active alcohol and drug control policy in the country. Policy that has public interest and public health promotion as a goal.
Samfo has launched and executed some national prevention projects in the field of alcohol and drugs. Every year the network organizes so-called Week 43; awareness week with focus on prevention and the role of NGO’s in the society.
There is great interest among the member organizations to strengthen this network and deepen their cooperation.
In a survey by the Medical Directorate of Health in Iceland, conducted in November/December 2013, about 47% of the respondents said that relative(s) or someone in their closest social environment had drunk too much once or more often during the last 12 months; about 60% said this had had negative impact on them. 30% said they had been harassed by drunken people in bars, restaurants or private parties during the last 12 months. 13% said so in a similar survey conducted in 2001. Young people were more exposed than the older ones. 25% had been annoyed by drunken people in the streets or other open public places; 22% said this had scared them. Young people and people living in the capital area were more likely to complain about this.