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07/11/2013

Minimum Unit Price making its way to Estonia?

Estonia, one of the smallest countries in EU and with one of the highest alcohol consumption rates, is one of the few countries without any alcohol strategy. Now, how awful did that sentence just sounded?!

At the same time, Estonia is making some promising steps that could raise it as one of the good examples in EU. In 2012 a special alcohol policy green book was finished. Organized by Ministry of Social Affairs, it is definitely not the strongest possible strategic paper, but it has many strong points in it. One of those is alcohol minimum unit price (MUP). Not as a specific plan but in a typical policy paper wording - “we are considering”.

MUP alone has not been the focus of different national civil society organisations advocating for public health oriented alcohol policy, because it seems that the green book itself is in danger and have little progress. The next step of the green book should have been reaching the table of the government, but no big developments took place. But despite that slow motion things were moving on.

The silence was broken by the minister of social affairs Taavi Rõivas (picture) on October 12 at the NordAN conference in Tallinn where minister said that the green book will be on the government´s agenda “in a month”. Furthermore, it turned out that ministry really was interested in getting to know MUP better and held a seminar in the beginning of October where Dr Peter Rice, chair of the Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems, was the main speaker. The focus on MUP continued, and Alec Neil, the Scottish Health Secretary, came to Estonia 30 October to present Scotland’s MUP plan, at a conference arranged by the Institute for Health Development. Minister Neil gave a comprehensive presentation explaining why MUP is perfect tool for countries like Scotland and Estonia, where alcohol consumption is without any question one of the big risk factors for public health.

As a result of these developments, Minster Rõivas had a meeting with his Scottish colleague and the next day he announced that Estonia is considering an introduction of minimum unit price.

So far no other minister, including the prime minister, have commented on the MUP, which means that nothing conclusive can be said about it yet. However, it is interesting that most of the retailers and industry representatives have supported the idea. At least in principle.

We´ll see. The “one month” perspective that the minister presented at the NordAN conference is soon over. One thing to learn from all of this is how important international cooperation between high level officials to improve alcohol policy is. Secretary Neil´s willingness to come to Estonia won probably an ally for Scotland´s fight to introduce MUP, at the same time possibly convinced an EU member state to seriously consider it itself.

By Eurocare Vice President, Lauri Beekmann