Finland will introduce health warnings on bottles of beer, wine and liquor, following reports that alcohol has become the country's biggest killer, officials said Friday.
The warnings, to be introduced in 2009, must be clearly displayed on the side of a bottle or packaging and cannot be included on any part that is discarded when an alcohol container is opened.
The labels have to include the word "VAROITUS," or "warning" in Finnish, in capital letters at least 3 mm high, the Health Ministry said. It will be accompanied by the text: "Alcohol endangers the development of a foetus and your health."
The labels will be in Finnish and Swedish in the bilingual Nordic nation that has a 6 percent Swedish-speaking minority.
The brewing federation said the measure would increase the cost of imported beers and wines by at least one euro per bottle.
Earlier Friday, health officials said that alcohol is the biggest single cause of accidents in the country, with more than 25 percent of all cases treated at health centres involving the abuse of alcohol. At weekends, some 50 percent of patients treated are under the influence of alcohol.
Drinking to get drunk
Following reports of increased binge drinking - especially among youth - in a country known for the widespread habit of drinking to get drunk, health officials and social workers have called for tough measures to halt the trend.
In 2005, health officials reported an alarming increase in health costs related to liquor consumption in the nation of 5.3 million.
Alcohol was responsible for 17 percent of all deaths among 15 to 64-year-old men, surpassing heart disease for the first time, the government healthy agency's report said. It was also the main killer of women for the first time, alongside breast cancer, causing some 10.5 percent of all deaths.
The Finnish government has traditionally kept a tight control on consumption by maintaining high prices in its Alko monopoly retail outlets. Supermarkets are allowed to sell only low-alcohol beer and cider.
Alcohol taxes to blame?
But in 2004, the government slashed alcohol taxes by more than 40 percent to discourage growing "booze cruises" to Russia and neighbouring Estonia, where liquor is much cheaper.
The move caused an outcry by health officials, and police reported a growth in public drunkenness and anti-social behaviour, with binge drinking increasing 10 percent among 17-year-olds in the first six months after the tax cut.
Since 2004, the cost of treating alcohol-related illnesses has grown by 14 percent, peaking at euro 850 million in 2005, according to the latest available figures.
Last month, the government proposed tax hikes of up to 15 percent on liquor, and 10 percent on beer and wine. – (Matti Huuhtanen/Sapa/AP)
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