Lithuania is one of the most well-known alcohol policy success stories in the world. It appears as if this success might not last however since the Seimas recently voted to worsen the country’s alcohol law.

In the early 2000s, Lithuania had the highest alcohol consumption rates in the world. In the face of the heavy alcohol burden and a very harmful alcohol norm, the government implemented world-class alcohol policy improvements in several steps during the 2010s, especially around 2017.

Since the new and improved alcohol law was enacted, Movendi International has regularly reported on the success of Lithuania’s alcohol policy modernization.

The road to arrive at this evidence-based solution was a long and challenging one. But the new alcohol law became an alcohol policy success story that even the World Health Organisation commended and that the people in Lithuania really support.

Against all odds and with a broad coalition were Lithuanian law makers able to adopt a comprehensive package of scientifically proven, cost-effective and impactful alcohol policy best buy measures.
The alcohol industry fought tooth and nail.
But the coalition of health professionals, wider civil society, young people, and major political parties and leaders managed to withstand Big Alcohol’s pressure. And the first results are highly promising: alcohol consumption and related harms are decreasing while government revenue is increasing.

Recently however, the Lithuanian parliament (Seimas) voted to worsen and erode the successful alcohol law. The decision has the potential to jeopardize the progress made.

59 Members of Parliament voted in favor of the new amendments to the alcohol law. 25 PMs voted against, while eleven abstained from voting entirely.

Parliamentarians voted to worsen successful alcohol law
59 MPs voted in favour of amendments that worsen Lithuania’s world-class alcohol policy. 11 abstained from voting either way.

The adopted amendments make alcohol more available and also increase alcohol marketing. These amendments clearly benefit the alcohol industry and risk fueling alcohol harm in Lithuanian families and communities.

The changes made to the alcohol law are as follows

  • Following the ammendment, the law now allows the sale of alcoholic beverages with an ABV content of up to 15% at exhibitions, fairs, and mass events.
    • Prior to this, only the sale of beer and cider with an alcohol content of 7.5% was allowed at events like this.
  • The standards surrounding alcohol licensing have also been lowered. From here onwards, the authorities will issue alcohol licenses when a criminal record is cleared.
    • Previously, convicted persons were not allowed to obtain alcohol licenses.
  • The Seimas also legalised alcohol as a representation gift and created a more competitive environment for alcohol sellers at events.
  •  Alcohol-related information such as awards that alcohol companies received and content on food and alcoholic drink pairings on online platforms are now allowed.
    • Before, this type of content was considered as alcohol advertising and was illegal.
  • As of now, Lithuania has a complete ban on alcohol advertising. The law only allows information on labelling, the country of origin, or the producer to be published. This information too is only allowed to be publicized on producers and sellers’ official websites.
  • The new amendments also allow alcohol production facilities to hold alcohol tastings.
    • Before, tastings were only allowed at fairs and exhibitions.

The Lithuanian Parliament breaks its own promises to the people

This is not the first time that Lithuania’s alcohol law was challenged. In 2022, the government proposed worsening several measures in the law.  Some Members of Parliament (MPs) concretely proposed amendments to water down the effective alcohol law. These amendments included:

  • Reducing the legal age for alcohol use to 18 years from 20 years for alcohol below 15% alcohol content.
  • Extending the alcohol sales time on Sundays to 8PM from 3PM.
  • Watering down the alcohol advertising ban.
  • Allowing higher strength alcohol to be sold at fairs.

The proposed changes did not go through in 2022, primarily because of the public show of support for the laws.

Only a few of the proposed amendments to the laws were accepted by the Economic Committee of the Seimas. The Committee rejected reducing the legal age limit reduction outright.

At the time, 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 public support for placing common sense limits on alcohol availability mattered in 2022 but in this year’s effort to worsen the successful alcohol law, MPs disregarded public opinion and the people’s interest in health and well-being.

The success of the alcohol law in Lithuania can clearly be seen in this show of support. The growing number of Lithuanian youth who stays alcohol-free longer or the figures regarding reduced alcohol poisonings clearly reflect the extent to which the public has embraced the benefits of addressing alcohol harm with evidence-based solutions.

But the Seimas in 2024 has gone back on its commitment to protect public health and wellbeing. The new set of changes play directly into the hands of the alcohol industry by making it easier to sell and promote alcohol.

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Source Website: LRT English