Survey: 10 percent of Estonian residents travel specifically to buy booze

39 percent of Estonia's residents have bought alcohol across the border, or asked someone to bring back cheap booze. Some 10 percent undertook a trip specifically to buy alcoholic drinks in Latvia, a new survey shows.

The price of alcoholic beverages and the excise duty levied on them by the state have been hotly debated over the last few months. A new survey by pollster Turu-uuringute AS now provides statistics, and shows that while a great amount of people brought booze back from across the border, the share in the overall population of those who consume alcohol has actually shrunk.

The percentage of those who consumed alcoholic drinks at least once among 18 to 64-year olds has shrunk from 92 percent in 2008 to 84 percent this year, the pollster said.

Vaike Vainu, responsible for the survey at Turu-uuringute AS, said that the 8-percent drop over the last ten years is due mainly to the fact that there are fewer people now who consume alcoholic drinks every week, their number having gone down from 27 percent to 21 in the same time period.

At the same time, there were little to no changes in the category of those who drink less frequently, Vainu added.

Underage drinking remains common, with 19 percent of those at least 15 years old consuming alcoholic drinks every week. In the same category, the men are clearly above average, with 33 percent.

Vainu also stressed that the survey clearly refutes the urban legend of the drinking lower social orders. "Those with a net income of over €1,000 make up the biggest share of weekly consumers," she explained.

The percentage of respondents who said they would consider going on a trip just to buy cheap booze was 23 percent, with 77 percent saying that they wouldn't do it. The pollsters identified a connection between these percentages and people's consumption: who drinks more is also more likely to make the effort to get hold of cheap supplies.

State expects €95.2 million lower excise revenue for 2018(1)

Respondents in the South, closer to the shops across the Latvian border, are more likely to go on such trips, with 43 percent of respondents in the area saying that they would consider doing it.

According to the survey, over the last 12 months altogether 39 percent of Estonian residents bought cheap booze on the other side of the border. This includes those who specifically traveled to go shopping as well as those who asked someone to bring back supplies for them.

More frequent booze tourists in West and South Estonia

Nationwide, 10 percent of respondents said they traveled specifically to buy cheap drinks. This is significantly higher in West and South Estonia, at 29 percent. The share of booze tourists is above the survey's average both in the younger age groups as well as for men.

In terms of overall consumption, the survey identified a downward trend even among those who traveled specifically to buy alcoholic drinks. Of the latter, 29 percent said that their consumption decreased over the last 12 months, while 17 percent said it had increased, and 54 percent said their consumption remained the same.

The Ministry of Social Affairs, who commissioned the survey, pointed out that the debate around the excise revenue that never materialized because of the cross-border booze tourism wasn't objective.

The argument that "so and so many museums could have been built for the money we lost" is moot, as it doesn't take into account the damage done by alcohol consumption and the health care costs it incurred.

These amounted to some €500 million a year altogether. For this money, Estonia could actually build that bridge to Saaremaa, ministry public health advisor Triinu Täht quipped.
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