Radical changes in alcohol law of Lithuania came into force since 01st January, 2018, and have already caused headache for government. Business is still silent, as it’s previous efforts during the discussion of Law in Parliament was not fruitful. But people criticize new way to control alcohol abuse in Lithuania as naïve, targeted to wrong direction and ineffective.
On 01st of June, 2017 by votes of major Parliament party “Lithuanian Union of Farmers and Greens”, leaded by Ramūnas Karbauskis, was declared a war against high alcohol consumption in Lithuania by changing Law on Alcohol Control of Republic of Lithuania (I-857):
- advertisement of alcohol was totally banned;
- legal age to purchase and consume alcohol was increased from 18 to 20 years old;
- opening hours of alcohol retail trade was shortened to 10 am- 8 pm and 10 am – 3 pm on Sundays.
- Maximum alcohol content by volume in drinks sold in open air restaurants and on fairs and exhibitions was restricted to 13% max.
- Alcohol trade is forbidden on the beaches and on the sport events since 2020, local municipalities received right to forbid alcohol trade in the public events.
Period of the discussion of the law in spring of 2017 was very emotional: public concerts defending rights to sell beer in the festivals #laisvėrokenrolui and mass signing of petition for freedom of choice #mesneligoniai, evolved during wine exhibition “Vyno dienos”. It helped to stop some initial changes of the Law: requirement to film every client in shop, limiting service of alcohol under the special fences in public events, prohibition of sales of alcohol in the open air, summer restaurants; prohibition of alcohol sales in all public events, including concerts and festivals, requirement for private people to keep alcohol bottles hidden in public places and like.
In 2017 Lithuanian Republic had quite strict alcohol trade Law: advertisement of alcohol was prohibited on TV and on radio until 23 am, opening hours of shops were limited to 8-22, only alcohol not higher then 7,5% abv is allowed in public cultural and sport events, alcohol is prohibited in educational institutions, alcohol is not allowed as gift, prize, alcohol consumption can’t be associated with better social, sex life, etc. Lithuania since 2004 is part of European Union and European drinking culture already dominates: there is strong trend to drink wine and beer with food, to consume less but better quality, to enjoy in moderation, to drink socially, to go out. Structure of alcohol drinks sold in Lithuania is similar to neighbor countries: spirits - 12,6 l, alcohol cocktails -1,9 l, wine - 10,9 l, fermented drinks (cider) – 12 l, beer – 94 l per capita. Despite that still part of alcohol is consumed at home as binge drinking. People with addiction to alcohol are concentrated in smaller province towns. They drink strong beer, cheap spirits, and some illegal spirits. Main reasons of binge drinking are social: unemployment, etc.
Institution that is responsible for the implementation of the Law – Drug, Tabaco and Alcohol Control Department (NTAKD) issued recommendations on how new Law will be interpreted. That created some unprecedented situations.
NTAKD interprets total ban of advertisement of alcohol in the broadest sense: any mentioning of the brand, name of producer or product in treated as advertisement. Information on product (limited to name, producer, origin, label information) is allowed only in the trading places of alcohol and on websites of producers and distributors. Social media is not treated as website, thus neither companies itself, nor its’ employees are allowed to show wine labels in their Facebook profiles. Edited content in mass media is also treated as alcohol advertisement thus is banned. This makes impossible to communicate anything, including moderate consumption, education and other “soft” ways to control abuse of alcohol. Not to mention wine surveys, trip literature, wine and food pairing advises.
Distributors of printed media informed Lithuanian publishers, that since mid-December they will not distribute journals and newspapers that has alcohol advertisement. So prohibition for most Lithuanian press have started since December issue of 2017. International press distributors did not get any answer form NTAKD what to do with foreign journals, so decided to remove pages with advertisement, by tearing out or by hiding it with special stickers. This created some healthy hysteria in media and with public. Even the fierciest advocates of new Law – Health minister of Lithuania Aurelijus Veryga and President of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaitė who have signed it agreed that tearing out journal reminds fashist times. NTADK is looking for solution, we hope it will not be discriminative for Lithuanian press.
New Law allows NTAKD to block internet source that publish alcohol advertisement to Lithuanian market. As advertisement is treated very broadly, any article could be reason for blocking whole website, furthermore archives of old articles could cause penalties as well. Therefore at the moment website of Wine journal is closed, News sites in many Lithuanian on-line shops are switched off. Statement of NTAKD that it is not allowed to write on the labels of alcohol drinks names of the websites with advertising content also concerns, as any website of wine producer could be treated as advertisement.
At the moment you can see labels of alcohol product at the alcohol trade places only. But information that could be given to the client is restricted by Law to the name, producer, origin and label information. Despite NTAKD informs that neutral wine and food pairing advices are allowed, this is the interpretation by institution who declares that it “does not consult, just expresses it’s opinion”. It is not allowed for clients to take home from shop leaflets or any other material about products. Wine press published before implementation of the changes of the Law – 01-01-2018 has to be removed from shops and restaurants. All kind of merchandise – caps, t-shirts, etc. with brands of alcohol products are forbidden.
Restaurant service was affected in the same ridiculous way. For example clients are not allowed to bring away bottle of wine from restaurant if it was purchased after 8pm. If someone is stopped with not finished bottle of fine wine at the door of restaurant, both client and restaurant will be fined. In order to help implementation of this law it is forbidden to give bottle of wine on the table after 8pm. It is recommended to serve bottle by glass or, decanted (!). Sommeliers now ar on demand.
Other changes: opening hours of wine shops are limited from 10am to 8 pm, and 10-3pm on Sunday creates more inconvenience to clients that to business. People are not happy, as they have to change their shopping plans, especially on Sunday, as now it is impossible to buy bottle of wine when driving to party at 6pm. Furthermore illegal trade started to operate: after the legal hours of alcohol trade are over, you are immediately will get proposal to buy what you need from the luggage conpartment in a car somewhere in the parking of trading centre.
There are many doubts regarding the decision to increase legal age to purchase and to consume alcohol up to 20 years. History shows that it takes decades to change customs of people, and it has to be done by changing culture not by implementing restrictions and penalties. It is just 100-150 km from any point in Lithuania to the nearest shop in Latvia and Poland, Belarus or Russia were global rules still in force, internet deliveries from all over the Europe is open. Which makes action of our Parliament irrational, expectations - naïve.
Changes of Alcohol Control Law of Lithuania were made in non-professional way: in urge, without analysis on consequences and without supportive instructions on how it has to be implemented. It was declared that it has to solve problems of health and social consequences of excessive drinking, but in fact it works as a tool to stop high quality drinks business and restrict any chances to change alcohol drinking culture by soft means: education, quality concern, drinking with food, etc. Since changes in the Law issued by governing parties will change life of 95 % of “normal” population but will not help to solve problems of those who drink heavily, there is very strong resistance to the changes initiated by Farmers and Greens by middle class population, students, academy, press, artists.
Editor-in-Chief of Vyno žurnalas