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Alcohol has many positive features. In Finland, it tends to be associated with socialising and a sense of community, and it is considered to complement good food, mark special occasions and provide relaxation. However, alcohol is also associated with significant levels of harm. Often, these are thought to be linked to alcoholism but, in fact, the majority of alcohol-related harm is not experienced by heavy users. For example, alcohol is associated with an increased cancer risk and, so far, scientists have not been able to determine a safe level of consumption.

Binge drinking in particular is associated with adverse outcomes. While alcohol consumption in Finland was traditionally reserved for the weekend, Finns have now begun to consume alcohol mid-week as well. This has led to an increase in overall consumption. This type of combination drinking brings disproportionate harm compared to the volumes involved.

A significant proportion of alcohol-related harm is experienced by people other than those directly consuming it; family, friends, colleagues and society as a whole. Nationally, the financial cost of the harm is estimated to amount to billions.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operative and Development (OECD) have worked to highlight the scale of alcohol-related harm in the west and promoted methods for reduction. The most effective way to reduce harm is to reduce consumption nationally. EHYT’s aim is to bring consumption in Finland down by around 15 per cent, to levels comparable with Sweden. We will also be working to develop Finnish drinking culture in a more harm-averse direction.

To achieve reductions in both consumption and harm, a range of measures need be implemented, including across Finnish schools and other educational establishments and the health service. NGOs carry out valuable work to complement the preventative services offered by the municipalities.  State alcohol policies and legislation are important tools in harm prevention as changes to the cost and availability of alcohol have a direct impact on consumption and harm.

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