Between 2015 and 2017 Lithuania lowered their alcohol consumption by 17%. This is a reduction of almost three liters per person. According to the World Health Organization, Lithuania is one of the top five countries to have reduced alcohol consumption the most over five years.
While celebrating this improvement, Renaldas Ciuzas, director of the Drug, Tobacco and Alcohol Control Department, says there is still room for improvement.
The data we have tell us that the change is positive, and this change makes us think that we are moving in a good direction,” said Renaldas Ciuzas, director of the Drug Tobacco and Alcohol Control Department, as per Delfi.en.
But Lithuania still has room for improvement, because we are still two liters above the EU average.”
Renaldas Ciuzas, director, Drug Tobacco and Alcohol Control Department
Alcohol policy success in Lithuania
Recently, the World Health Organization hailed Lithuania for successfully implementing WHO recommended alcohol policy solutions to lower alcohol consumption and related harm.
How did Lithuania achieve this success in a relatively short time period?
Lithuania was a country with one of the highest alcohol consumption rates in the early 2000s. In the face of the heavy alcohol burden and pervasive alcohol norm in the country, new alcohol policy solutions were implemented by the government. The first action package was implemented in 2008–2009 and 2014 and the second package in 2016. These policies addressed the harm caused by the products and practices of the alcohol industry.
The new laws cover all three Best Buy policy solutions recommended by WHO. They include:
- Tax increase for all alcohol products,
- Limiting availability to 10:00 AM – 8:00 PM Monday through Saturday, and 10:00 AM – 3:00 PM on Sundays,
- Increase of the legal age for purchasing and possessing alcohol products to 20 years, and
- Ban of alcohol advertising, including billboards, TV, radio, the printed press and the internet.
The positive effects of the new alcohol laws are clearly visible:
- The implementation of high-impact alcohol policy solutions led to a 20% reduction of the alcohol-attributable years of life lost by 2016.
- The European School Survey on Alcohol and Other Psychoactive Substances (ESPAD) reported, in 2019 there were 21% of Lithuanian adolescents who were alcohol-free. This is a significant increase from 2015, when the alcohol-free percentage of adolescents was only 13%, and a major increase from 2011 when it was only between 2% to 5%.
The road to the modern, effective and proven Lithuanian alcohol laws was a long one with many obstacles posed by the alcohol industry. In a win for people, families and society at large, a broad coalition of health professionals, wider civil society, young people, and major political parties and leaders managed to withstand Big Alcohol’s pressure and make these effective alcohol policy solutions a reality. Movendi International member organization NTAKK has been at the heart of the advocacy work for Lithuania’s groundbreaking, evidence-based alcohol prevention and control solutions.
Growing public support for new alcohol laws
Public support is important to implement comprehensive alcohol policy solutions, such as in Lithuania. Having seen the benefits of the new alcohol laws, Lithuanian citizens’ support for these laws has been steadily growing.
A survey carried out by Spinter Tyrimai in 2019, among 1000 Lithuanians aged 18 to 74, found:
- 51% have a positive opinion about the existing alcohol policy regulations (an increase from 48% in 2018),
- 67% back the law raising the legal age (increase of 14 points from 2018), and
- 62% support the total ban on alcohol advertising (increase of 5 points from 2018).
Despite the effectiveness and the overwhelming public support for Lithuania’s comprehensive alcohol policy, the new government has been discussing weakening these policies. The complete ban on advertising and the 20 year age limit for using alcohol products are two of the measures the government is discussing to weaken.
Lithuanians are however against weakening the effective alcohol laws in their country. A public opinion survey by the news agency BNS found:
- 74.6% of Lithuanians were against reducing the 20 year minimum age for alcohol purchase.
- 59.2% were against extending sales hours.
The new alcohol laws in Lithuania have proven effective already in the short-term. Not enough time has passed to asses the long-term benefits but current evidence points to a positive trend in reducing alcohol use and youth staying alcohol-free longer. It would be short-sighted to revoke these effective laws now.
Former Lithuanian President who signed the bill to pass these new alcohol laws, Dalia Grybauskaitė, urged politicians to refrain from new controversial proposals until effects of the modernized alcohol law could be assessed and analyzed.