A majority of the Social and Labor Committee in the Latvian Parliament, the Saeima, supports the propsal to raise the legal age limit for alcohol purchase and use.
In total, members of the committee discussed 43 proposals to improve alcohol policy in Latvia. Movendi International reported in advance of the Saeima session where alcohol legislation would be on the agenda.
The planned changes to the Law on the Circulation of alcoholic beverages and the Law on Electronic Mass Media provide for reducing the availability of alcoholic beverages, restricting advertising and marketing, as well as additional activities in the field of informing and educating the public.
Alcohol harm in Latvia finally on political agenda
Movendi International has reported about alcohol harm and policy responses – or lack thereof – in Latvia more than 30 times in recent years.
The rate of alcohol consumption and harm in Latvia is a source of considerable concern and significantly exceeds international averages. Latvia is a high-consumption country and a country with a high alcohol burden. This poses substantial challenges for both public health and the country’s economy.
But the Latvian government and parliament are now making alcohol policy the priority it should be. For instance, the parliament is set to review how to implement an alcohol tax increase, an alcohol age limit increase, how to better protect people in Latvia from alcohol ads, sponsorships, and promotions. Another example is the effort by the government to raise alcohol taxes.
Parliamentary debate of alcohol policy solutions
After a long break, the Saeima was set to initiate debate of alcohol policy improvements in the end of October. For instance, the parliament would review how to implement an alcohol tax increase, an alcohol age limit increase, and how to better protect people in Latvia from alcohol ads, sponsorships, and promotions.
During the committee meeting on October 31, representatives from different sectors put forward their arguments as to why one or another proposal to reduce population-level alcohol consumption and harm should be supported or rejected.
Artjoms Uršuļskis, parliamentary secretary of the Ministry of Health, said the primary goal of the changes is to reduce the alcohol burden affecting people and society in Latvia. The amendments included in the draft laws provide for a number of improvements that would increase alcohol prices, limit alcohol advertising, and reduce the presence of alcohol in Latvian communities.
The consumption of alcohol in Latvia is worrying and by international standards very high. This has implications for health and the economy.
In addition to the age limit increase, other alcohol policy improvements in the area of availability are also debated
The Baltic News Network reports that multiple members of the Saeima have submitted proposals for amendments to the Handling of Alcoholic Beverages Law that provide for limiting alcohol sale time even more than it is now.
Currently the law states that sale of alcoholic beverages is prohibited between 22:00 p.m. and 08:00 a.m., except for stores in which alcoholic beverages are served as drinks and are intended to be consumed on the spot.
Former Saeima deputy Jurģis Klotiņš suggested the most ambitious new standard for alcohol retail. His proposal provided for a ban on sales of alcohol between 20:00 p.m. Monday to Saturday and a complete ban on sales of alcohol on Sunday.
Mr Klotiņš also proposed prohibiting sales of alcohol to persons below the age of 21, as well as to persons who are already impaired by alcohol.
The Union of Greens and Farmers faction chairman Harijs Rokpelnis proposed prohibiting the sale of alcohol between 21:00 p.m. and 11:00 a.m (16:00 p.m. and 11:00 a.m. on Sundays and holidays).
Similar proposals were submitted by former New Unity deputies and current ministers Inga Bērziņa and Hosams Abu Meri, offering a ban on sales of alcohol to be implemented between 15:00 p.m. and 08:00 a.m. on Sunday.
Saeima deputy Jānis Patmalnieks proposed banning alcohol sales between 22:00 p.m. and 10:00 a.m., whereas Edmunds Cepurītis proposed setting the ban between 20:00 p.m. and 10:00 a.m.
Mr Cepurītis and the New Unity deputies group proposed setting a complete ban on alcohol sales at petrol stations.
It is planned for the Saeima Social and Employment Matters Committee to start discussing these topics in the coming week.
Latvia’s alcohol burden and the need for action
In 2020, Latvia had the highest population-level alcohol consumption among the OECD countries – 12.1 liters per inhabitant, excluding the consumption of tourists.
In 2021, per capita alcohol continued to increase, reaching 12.2 liters.
The picture that emerges is clear:
- Latvia ranks among the countries with the highest rate of years of life lost due to alcohol, according to the World Health Organization.
Alcohol is a significant risk factor for various injuries, including life-threatening situations. The Latvian Emergency Medical Service (NMPD) reports that one in three injured Latvians is under the influence of alcohol. Apart from causing injuries, alcohol intoxication makes it more difficult for emergency and medical staff to provide proper help.
In a deep dive from 2022, Movendi International has explored the alcohol burden in Latvia, its history, to understand how alcohol harm and alcohol prevention developed over the years. Latvia looks back at a complicated history of alcohol policy to prevent and reduce alcohol harm during various time periods starting as far back as the 19th century. There is potential and opportunity for Latvia to improve alcohol prevention to increase the health, social and economic development of society.
No significant alcohol policy improvements in 20 years
But Latvia has not implement any significant alcohol policy improvement in the areas of availability, marketing, and pricing for the past 20 years. This is how long Latvia has been a member of the European Union.
While the alcohol excise tax has been raised sporadically, it has not been significant enough for improvements in public health.
Uldis Mitenbergs, Head of Mission of the World Health Organization in Latvia, explains the potential of alcohol policy to protect Latvians, as per LSM:
In any case, it is essential that these amendments are adopted. At least in the way they are right now. But in any event, it would also be welcome to take into account proposals aimed at further tightening alcohol restrictions.Uldis Mitenbergs, Head of Mission, World Health Organization in Latvia
Laura Isajeva, a researcher at the Institute of Public Health at the Stradiņš University also offers further reassurance that these policy proposals are effective in improving public health.
All these proposals are evidence-based, with the aim of improving public health and reducing alcohol-related harm.
Those proposals that are already out there would be great if all were supported. This would already have a significant impact on our public health and alcohol-related indicators. It would certainly reduce consumption as well. It would improve the picture as it is now.”Laura Isajeva, Institute of Public Health at the Stradiņš University
Alcohol Policy Best Buys Save Lives in Baltic Countries and Poland
A unique study evaluated the impact of the alcohol policy “best buy” solutions in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, on a broad measure, all-cause mortality, without distinguishing between policies and countries. This study, published in April 2023, demonstrated that alcohol policies were linked with a reduction in all-cause mortality among men in the Baltic countries between 2001 and 2020. All-cause mortality among women also decreased, but not significantly so.
- 172 male deaths avoided per year for Estonia,
- 317 male deaths avoided per year for Latvia,
- 478 male deaths avoided per year for Lithuania, and
- 4340 male deaths avoided per year for Poland.
For men, Latvia had a higher age-standardized all-cause mortality rate than Poland (by 38.82%).
Estonia and Lithuania also showed higher mortality than Poland: Estonia by 16.01% and Lithuania by 27.26%.
The alcohol control policies implemented in the Baltic countries and Poland were effective in significantly reducing all-cause mortality among men. The results of this study contribute to other previous studies showing the effectiveness of alcohol control policies in reducing all-cause mortality, when the WHO “best buys” alcohol control policies were adopted.