Booze-Buyer Turns Himself in to Police

beer cans

Árni Guðmundsson, an adjunct teacher at the University Iceland, turned himself in to the police on December 21 for the crime of buying 16 cans of beer from two online sellers. Police registered the charge and confiscated the alcohol, Vísir reports.

The act was something of a stunt, as Árni leads a group of parents against the advertisement of alcohol. By reporting his own crime he wished to highlight the contradictory state of alcohol policy in Iceland.

“The police have probably filed my report formally as is standard procedure,” Árni told Vísir. “They are probably investigating this crime and the operations of the two online sellers who delivered goods from a domestic warehouse. I sent a copy to the the district public prosecutor and the public prosecutor.”

“International orders” from local stock

In Iceland, retail of alcohol is a near-monopoly of the state liquor store, Vínbúðin, and advertisements of alcoholic products are prohibited. Despite this, a number of online stores have begun selling alcohol using a loophole. By establishing a foreign-based company, they can accept “international orders” while delivering quickly from stock held locally in Iceland.

Árni says his purchase of the alcohol was easier than ordering a pizza. He bought Icelandic beer that arrived half an hour after he placed the order. In his view, the beer should have travelled from the brewery in the north of Iceland to the capital area, been flown out of the country, back into it, gone through customs and then to the two young delivery men in order to comply with the law. He argues that this is illegal retail of alcohol.

Alcohol is also taxed at a high rate in Iceland, which should in theory discourage buyers. Árni argues that it is important for public health that alcohol access remain limited and says that only business interests are pushing for liberalisation of the law. “There is an effort to commercialise sale of alcohol in defiance of the ruling policy and law,” Árni’s group wrote in a letter to the Alþingi Ombudsman. “There has been a solid societal consensus about the law and mode of alcohol sales as they take into account both public health and welfare points of view (not least for children and youths) and business interests.”

Minister of Justice Wants to Legalize Alcohol Ads

Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir

Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir wants to legalize ads for alcohol, saying banning them isn’t working and discriminates against Icelandic producers. RÚV reports that a parliamentary bill is currently being drafted which, if passed, would make alcohol advertisements legal in Iceland.

Áslaug Arna has recently presented a draft bill to Alþingi which would allow for Iceland’s state-run liquor stores to sell alcohol online. It is currently legal for Icelanders to buy alcohol from foreign companies and have it shipped to their homes (subject to import duties), but they must go in-person to purchase alcohol sold in Iceland.

The minister asserts that allowing Icelandic alcohol producers to start advertising would give them an equal footing with their foreign counterparts. “There are, of course, alcohol ads everywhere today—when we’re watching foreign sports on TV, browsing foreign magazines, or on all these social media sites today. So the ban isn’t working.”

A survey prepared for the Minister of Education on the business environment in media also proposed that the current ban on alcohol advertising in Iceland be overturned.

Ólafur Stephensen, CEO of the Icelandic Federation of Trade, says that the same reasoning that applies to allowing the sale of alcohol online in Iceland applies to this issue. Icelandic businesses have, he affirms, agreed to abide by very strict regulations, should the ban be overturned.

Unsurprisingly, however, not everyone is in favour of the proposed change. Árni Guðmundsson, the chair of the Parental Association Against Alcohol Advertising, says that children’s right to not encounter alcohol propaganda is more important than business considerations. He says that alcohol advertising is aimed at children and teens and that just because alcohol advertisements come into Iceland from other places, that’s no reason to relax public health and prevention criteria.

Áslaug Arna argues however that since the ban isn’t working, it would make more sense to set specific regulations on advertising.