The Lithuanian government has unveiled new policy measures aimed at tackling alcohol-related harm, including increasing the legal age for buying and consuming alcoholic drinks.
Lithuania is among the countries with the highest per capita consumption of alcohol in Europe, according to the World Health Organisation.
In an effort to address alcohol abuse, the Lithuanian government prepared a number of measures, including a tax increase, which still needs to pass through parliament in a vote that many see as unpredictable.
Among the proposed measures are an increase of the legal age for buying, holding and consuming alcoholic beverages (from 18 to 20) and a full ban on alcohol advertising from January 2018, EURACTIV.com has learned.
In addition, the government wants to impose additional trade hour limitations on alcohol retail outlets – from 8 PM to 10 AM on Monday-Saturday and from 3 PM to 10 AM on Sundays. Currently, the ban is between 10 PM and 8 AM.
Still, alcoholic beverages could be sold during large public events such as festivals. And local authorities would gain more power in decision-making regarding alcohol sale time.
According to Mariann Skar, secretary general of European Alcohol Policy Alliance (Eurocare), the plans are based on recognised international agreements.
“Alcohol policy often contradicts with the interests of different industries and businesses and it is important to state that for any countries or governments, the well-being and health of people should come before the profit of private companies,” she told EURACTIV.
Don’t miss the mark
The country’s Health Minister, Aurelijus Veryga, a former president of the National Tobacco and Alcohol Control Coalition, has prioritised alcohol prevention.
But Laure Alexandre, director of SpiritsEurope, said that measures solely seeking to reduce alcohol consumption often miss the mark.
“The level of enforcement of policies already in place in Lithuania should be properly evaluated,” she told EURACTIV. “We, therefore, look forward to Lithuania notifying its draft bill via the TRIS database and provide their assessment of the situation,” Alexandre added.
Should enforcement be found to be lacking, then this should be addressed “before seeking to move the goal post,” the SpiritsEurope chief said.
Otherwise, she explained, further restricting access or raising the legal purchase age to 20 years old would “at best be inefficient, or worse push Lithuanians further to the black market, already very high in this country”.
For Jan de Grave, director of communications for the Brewers of Europe, initiatives that are effective in promoting responsible beer consumption are welcomed.
“However, experience has shown that restrictive control policies simplistically aimed at reducing per capita consumption missed the target problem, producing mixed results and unintended consequences from both an economic and public health perspective,” he told EURACTIV.
De Grave also added that in some cases, those who are inconvenienced tend to be moderate drinkers for whom beer or other drinks may be part of a balanced and healthy lifestyle, while the determined alcohol drinker will always find a way.