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Archive for the ‘health’ Category

The booze taxi

I have often wondered about the logistics of the smuggling to Norway. Hard liquor is one thing, it does not take a brain surgeon to fill empty vodka bottles in bars and restaurants with bootleg substitutes. Beer, however, is more complicated.

Because it seems the smuggled beer is mostly Polish. No Norwegian labels, and the alcohol content is a bit above 5%, which is above the limit of the beers allowed to be sold in supermarkets.

But the market will find a way. The solution is the sprittaxi – the booze taxi. Among the teenagers, there are phone numbers circulating. Call them and place your order. Beer or harder stuff. And they have serious advantages over the competition:

  • No questions about ID showing your age
  • No restricted opening hours
  • Far cheaper than the legal alternatives

A six-pack of Tyskie will set you back 100 kroner. The cheapest six-pack of beer in a shop is about 150.

There are some run down kiosks  on the eastern side of town offering the same range of goods, too, according to my informant.

I am in no way encouraging this. There has been incidents of methanol poisoning in Norway fairly recently, just mention the health aspect. But one should not be too surprised  that when the price gap between countries with open borders gets too big, there are obvious opportunities for bootleggers. Something for the legislators to consider.

Tyskie

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Photo: drikkeglede.no

There is liberalisation, and there is not.

As I have told you before, the Norwegian beer scene is currently in a pretty good shape. The micro breweries are doing well, the industrial breweries are more or less standing still, but they are still making serious money on their markups. The selection of imports available, at least in Oslo, is more than most drinkers are able to cope with. And beer imports  by individuals are no longer illegal, just extremely expensive.

But there are certainly still areas where our puritan brand of Lutheran faith is shining through, however secular we claim to have become.

There is an endless debate on the maximum opening hours for bars and restaurants. It is a weird discussion. Most politicians are afraid of being labelled as too backwards. The ones in favour of closing the bars early are in desperate search of documentation from the police and others that their proposals are Good For You. I won’t go into the points about illegal night clubs, uncontrolled drinking at home and what have you.

But the debate about opening hours is not particularly Norwegian. What might be of more amusement interest to my global readers is the recent ruling of the Market Council.

To quote their own web site, The Market Council is a kind of administrative “court of law”. It carries out supervision of the Marketing Control Act, as well as parts of the regulatory framework governing prohibitions against advertising in the Norwegian Tobacco and Alcohol Act, and the advertising regulations in the Act on Broadcasting.

The Market Council has upheld the view of the Health Directorate (yes, the ones with the Dead People Division) that Aass Brewery and the Norwegian Breweries’ Association have to remove from their web pages all photos of beer, all descriptions of products, all press releases and so forth. For the lawyers among you (Hi Alan!), you can run this ruling through your favorite online translator.

Danish media find this hilarious, quoting this as yet another piece of evidence that we are stalking mad. They are particularly pleased with the porn-like masks of some of the photos on the web site.

For the record – these regulations apply to those who brew or sell alcohol. They do not apply to private blogs. So I will, for the time being, continue to publish my beer porn.


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In bed by two

The current red/green government hereabouts is a majority government. which we haven’t had for a long time. But it’s not necessarily a good idea.

It means that decisions are made behind closed doors, when the leadership of the three parties have made up their minds, the debate is over. Even some of their own members of parliament are complaining about this.

Having to negotiate with a more or less hostile majority in parliament means that some of the more silly proposals quickly end up in the recycling bin. With a clear majority, there is a danger that the same proposals become law.

We have some, very few, areas where local government decides how things should be done in their community. Some towns have a centre-right council, others are run by the social democrats, and this changes over time. The local parties campaign on their key issues, but when in office most of their budgets are linked to expenditure decided by central government. They can make some decisions on local roads, bus services, where to build schools and kindergartens, building permits etc. They used to decide the opening hours for shops, but this was taken away from them. Some also had more liberal licencing hours for selling beer in supermarkets, but that is history.

One topic is hotly debated in many towns, and that is the opening hours for licenced restaurants and bars. The bigger cities, including Oslo, tend to have fairly liberal opening hours – until 03:00.

Well, this is about to change, at least if the governments survives the September elections. A proposal was launched today by the Minister of Health and the Minister of Justice. They propose national legislation stopping the sale of alcohol at 02:00.

The health minister is interviewed by VG online:

We have a set of rules regulating the actions of individuals. That is called society. We have speed limits as well, of concern for the big majority. There is a minority that insists on drinking and partying until three in the morning. This is when ordinary people need to find their beds.

The young liberals have another opinion.

This is the nanny state at its worst. Members of parliament in Oslo should not decide when adult citizens can have a beer. We want to remove all government regulations for serving alcohol – local democracy can find good solutions, says their leader Anne Solsvik.

I can’t remember the last time I was in a bar after two in the morning. And there might be evidence that closing earlier means less violence in the streets. But what worries me is that the last few possibilities for making local decisions are taken away.

I have a feeling that the proposal of subsidising beer for visiting hooligans won’t be on the agenda of this government.

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The inventiveness of merchants and governments across Europe has led to many strange price differences between neighbouring countries. Sugar, petrol, vodka, wine – the list is endless. The European Union has led to some harmonisation, but you still have lots of Danes going to Germany to shop, not to mention Brits going across to France.

National governments have some tough decisions to make. Finland has lowered the prices of hard liquor to avoid to much border trade with Estonia and Russia. The result is a paradise for hard drinkers, and even a casual observer can see the damages.

I spent a few years of my life in the employ of the Royal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, trying to convince the Norwegian electorate that the Maastricht Treatywas Good For Them. As everyone knows, they were not amused, and massive oil wealth has meant that we can buy ourselves out of any problems arising from being on the outside.

Well, there is more to it than that, obviously. To be able to sell our salmon and oil, we have to open our markets for goods and services from the EU, and are quite content to do that. We could not possibly build our roads and hospitals without hired hands from Poland and the Baltic republics. We could not have our overpriced pint of Carlsberg lager without the Swedish waiters to serve them.

We adopt EU legislation, too, in fact we are more eager than most member states. We Nordics have a very Lutheran feeling of obligation towards legal committment, and this philosophy is prevailent in the government as well. Even parties who are extremely against European integration when they are in opposition accept the sitaution when they occupy the ministries.

But still. We are not a part of the EU agricultural policy, and we do not have open borders when it comes to alcohol, either. At the same time the border between Sweden and Norway is as open as the one between, say, Belgium and the Netherlands. People commute by road, rail and plane. Norwegians snap up holiday homes in Sweden. Goods travel freely across the border based on a trust in that serious businesses keep their papers in orders, and the customs officers process papers and conduct only spot checks.

This has led to the establishment of a number of shopping centres on the Swedish side. About one million people live within a driving distance of about an hour and a half. A significant number of those live even closer, and they are happy to buy their groceries at a 20-30% discount.

The most interesting shopping centres are the ones including a branch of the government alcohol stores Systembolaget, but when I visited last week, we did not have time for seeking out one of them, instead going for one of the stores right across the border.

The main purpose of our visit was to buy sweets for an birthday, and the size of the confectionery shop was overwhelming. We bought far more than we ought to, before descending on the supermarket next door.

One aspect of Swedish alcohol policy makes them the odd man out. Only beer with an alcohol content below 3,5% can be sold in supermarkets. This has, naturally, led to a vast range of beers balancing on that threshold. With a population of close to ten million, Sweden is an interesting market. This has mad many of the breweries across Europe to make  watered downspecial versions of their beers solely for Sweden. You have English bottled bitters, Bavarian hefeweissen, Austrian and Dutch lagers – even a low alcohol beer brewed by Borg, a Norwegian brewery just across the border who worry about their market escaping.

So, who are profiting on this boom in the border trade? Sure, a few Swedish farmers have had a bonanza. But most of the money goes back again. The shopping centres and supermarkets are actually owned and run by Norwegian companies.

And you don’t need to worry about the language problem. (Not that the difference is big). The cashier would be Norwegian as well, driving a few kilometers across to work.

The beer? thin and watery, though a few of them are in fact quite decent. You’ll need a shot of something stronger on the side to get a buzz, though. But these are fine lawnmower beers. At half the price of their full strength brethren on the other side of the border.

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The Norwegian Royal Ministry of Health and Care Services has, after dragging its feet for some time, sent a letter to the EFTA Surveillance Authority informing them that the ban on private import of alcohol should be repealed and replaced by an alternative control system. The Norwegian Government will therefore immediately initiate work on drafting alternative control mechanisms and an amendment of the legislation on private import of alcoholic beverages.

This amendment will have to be passed in Parliament, and the system is such that it will take a year or so to get the issue through the system. With a majority government, though, this should pass without much fuzz. I expect some whimpering from the Christian Democrats, but that’s about it.

Tonight we raise our glasses of (imported) beer to the European Court and the EFTA Surveillance Authority.

Belgian beer bottles

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We have discussed this before:

Euro MPs will debate whether or not to phase out the use of patio heaters today.

A ban on patio heaters would upset thousands of pubs which have invested heavily in heaters for outdoor smoking areas since the ban.

Lib Dem MEP Fiona Hall has compiled a report on energy efficiency which “urges the Commission to establish timetables for the withdrawal from the market of all the least energy-efficient items of equipment, appliances and other energy-using products, such as patio heaters”.

More in the Morning Advertiser.

For some reason I had no photos of patio heaters. But the beer is called Old Smokey.

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I am not going to bore you with lots of posts about the smoking ban, but I’d like to mention that the Economist Certain ideas of Europe blog covers the issue. Their focus is on all the outdoor heating systems being installed to accommodate the smokers (which I have blogged about before).

What none of these pieces mentioned is that these outdoor terrace heaters (which have also sprung up like topsy all over Brussels in the last couple of years) are not exactly a brilliant idea, environmentally. The gas ones may be prettily designed with little silver hats to reflect the heat downwards, but they still amount to sticking a bunch of large propane cylinders on the pavement, lighting them, and letting them heat the sky. The electric ones are surely equally wasteful, aren’t they?

So, smokers, enjoy the heaters while you can, I smell further bans here! This is not from a newspaper that is usually calling for government intervention…

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