"I feel that alcohol use among adults in Longyearbyen is obviously more than what I'm used to on the mainland," said Ingeborg Runde, the city's youth coordinator in an interview with Svalbardposten.
Consumption must be reduced
There were 24 active licenses in Longyearbyen in 2015 (the total so far this year has increased to 25). In addition, there were 67 licenses for various events and Nordpolet's retail sales license.
The 24 licenses alone means a ratio of one license for every 87 citizens.
The Longyearbyen Community Council is about to take up an alcohol policy plan with the main goal being to reduce alcohol consumption.
A draft of the revised alcohol policy now under consideration states:
• Total consumption should be reduced.
• Harmful drinking patterns should receive greater attention.
• Students in Longyearbyen should not use drugs.
• Alcohol consumption by young people should be reduced.
• Youth surveys will be conducted at least every four years to establish a statistical database about the actual use of alcohol and tobacco among youths.
But beyond sales at Nordpolet and Korkpenger money (cultural grants funded with taxes from alcohol sales), there are no reporting requirements.
That means neither politicians nor other local authorities know how much alcohol is actually being consumed in Svalbard.
"I feel that alcohol use among adults in Longyearbyen is obviously more than what I'm used to on the mainland," said Ingeborg Runde. FOTO: Eirik Palm
There is "no requirement for reporting from licensees, there is no payment of a serving fee and the local council therefore has no overview of total alcohol sales," the draft proposal notes. It further states there have been few sales violations and The Governor of Svalbard reports few drug-related crimes.
"That is very unusual. I miss the surveys and numbers," said Runde, referring to the lack of an overview of serving and sales of alcohol.
As a youth coordinator, she points out young people are brought up learning alcohol is a matter of course.
The proposal was sent to all licensees and the governor for input. There was no objection.
Espen Klungseth Rotevatn (Green Party) is among the critics of the proposed alcohol policy. He said it's shocking there is no requirement for licensed premises to report sales figures.
It's shocking there is no requirement for licensed premises to report sales figures, says Espen Klungseth Rotevatn (Green Party). FOTO: Eirik Palm
He stated during a council meeting in February he wants a debate on alcohol policy in Longyearbyen and that for businesses today it's considered it a formality to get an alcohol license.
"Much of the assessment and the alcohol policy proposal smells of disclaimer," Rotevatn said.
"One thing we must do is get an overview of the alcohol scene in Longyearbyen," he said.
"Until proven otherwise, I think that it must be assumed it is easy to obtain. Secondly, and I cannot understand this being controversial, is to envision how many licenses to serve alcohol we will give. The final thing is serving times."
There were several questions about local alcohol policies during a debate by the council's Youth and Culture Committee on Tuesday. It was also clear there is considerable disagreement about local practices.
Eivind Trondsen (Liberal Party) said it's difficult to compare Longyearbyen with other municipalities. FOTO: Eirik Palm
Eivind Trondsen (Liberal Party) said it's difficult to compare Longyearbyen with other municipalities since it is a tourist destination. He said also believes there have been few incidents resulting from alcohol use.
"The best things we can do is to provide Nordpolet a new entrance and separate alcohol from groceries," says Trondsen, suggesting the focus should be on minor adjustments to a system that works "relatively well."
"I am in strong disagreement about putting a hold on licensed premises," he said, adding the industry must establish trust.
Checking with lawyers
Kristin Furu Grøtting, a fellow Liberal Party member and chairwoman of the committee, said a new alcohol policy debate is welcome. A few years back she tried to initate debate about whether Svalbard shall be "Mediterranean 2."
"We must dare to make the rounds and ask questions about how we want this," she said, adding the lack of statistics keeps her from the total figure she is seeking.
"I think that we are not looking for individual licensed premises, but how much is consumed in total," she said.
Should licensing requirements be modifed?
"Yes, quite possibly so," Grøtting said. "I don't know."
The head of the city's youth and culture department, Unn Martinsen, said she will consult with lawyers regarding whether the Longyearbyen Community Council can require licensees to provide sales figures.
Employers have the responsibility
The proposal also contains a series of measures aimed at reducing overall consumption, and reducing the risk of consumption among children and adolescents. But there are no specific measures to reduce consumption among the adult population. The reason given is that Norwegian law on healthcare services and social services do not apply to the Longyearbyen's municipal government.
"When it becomes a problem in the workplace, it has for a long time been a problem at home", Kristin Furu Grøtting (Liberal Party) says. FOTO: Eirik Palm
Instead the law says children's families who are struggling with substance-related problems should be referred to other professional entities, and employers are encouraged to be aware of substance abuse during and outside working hours.
"There should be a focus on substance abuse," Grøtting said. "Because when it becomes a problem in the workplace, it has long been a problem at home."
Runde's advice to politicians is to think holistically about how Longyearbyen ought to be.
"They say that Longyearbyen should be a safe and family-oriented community, and have a good childhood environment," she said. "What criteria can be set for things to be safe and well? Certainly one should think about industrial and economic development. But there is a lot of alcohol."
Meanwhile, a survey by UngData in 2013 raises questions since it showed youths in Svalbard drink more and probably start at an earlier age than on the mainland. A new survey is planned in 2017.
"The statistics referred to are from 2013 and more will come next year," said Elise Strømseng (Labor Party). "That is really counter-intuitive to me."