Finland lets stores sell stronger drinks, health chiefs complain

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HELSINKI (Reuters) - Finnish lawmakers narrowly voted on Friday to let grocery stores sell stronger alcoholic drinks, after months of public debate pitting supporters of drinker’s rights against health campaigners.

Shops will be able to sell drinks with an alcoholic content of 5.5 percent, lifting the 4.7-percent limit that has been in force since the 1960s.

Supporters of the move say it will support breweries and retailers and mark a move away from the controlling instincts of the “nanny state”.

“Finns have been patronized for long enough, now we are taking a great step towards broader individual freedom,” lawmaker Simon Elo from the co-ruling, eurosceptic Blue Reform party said after the vote.

Parliament’s own committee for social affairs and health, and other lawmakers opposed lifting the limit.

“This is a sad day in the history of Finnish alcohol policy ... the parliament consciously made a decision which will increase misery, alcohol-related deaths and diseases, assaults and drunk driving,” said Paivi Rasanen, lawmaker from the opposition Christian Democrats.

Currently, strong beers, wines and spirits can only be bought from 350 national monopoly stores. Some lawmakers had wanted to follow the example of neighboring Sweden and lower the limit to 3.5 percent in grocery stores.

Lawmakers voted 98-94 to back the change on Friday.

Reporting by Jussi Rosendahl and Tuomas Forsell; Editing by Andrew Heavens