New regulations – new failures

True story. Paternalistic government in Lithuania is eager to fight individual urges to drink and is about to show some tough love for the alcohol consumers.

Regulations on alcohol consumption in Lithuania are already the strictest in the European Union. According to WHO’s (World’s Health Organisation) Global status report on alcohol and health 2014, only less than a third of countries apply restrictions on trading alcohol during some days of the week.

Meanwhile, the majority of countries does not apply any restrictions on alcohol consumption at all. That is why it is impossible to justify Lithuania’s alcohol trading restrictions using EU experience as an example.

It is worth to remember that current alcohol trading restrictions were introduced in 2007 (altered in 2009), but their effectiveness has not been proven yet. According to the data of the Department of Statistics, the latest restrictions have not reduced alcohol consumption.

Despite the statistics, it is clear that we are rebels in the neighborhood when it comes to drinking. But we should not be worried, since our government is determined to take care of our reputation. They are very much keen to fight this eternal battle on alcohol consumption. Soon, this Wednesday, they are going to discuss the following measures[3] :

  • Requirement to sell drinks that have more than 7,5% alcohol in specialized shops. Making stronger alcohol drinks less accessible to individuals. Implementation of this measure more likely of having less impact on decreasing alcohol consumption, but much more likely to have higher impact on smaller businesses.
  • Individuals that are younger than 20 years won’t be allowed not only buy alcohol drinks, but also enter specialized shops. Even though according to current legislation 18 year-old is old enough to work full time, to drive a car, to vote or to get married, that doesn’t make individual old enough to make decisions about alcohol consumption. If that was not enough, an individual that is younger than 20 years will be forced to stand outside while someone of legal drinking age will be buying drinks inside the specialized shop.
  • Stores owners will be required to film their alcohol buyers and keep records of them for half an year. Footage of consumers buying alcohol will also be available to those who will have valuable reason to ask for it. As a result, buying your bottle of wine is going to be so much more criminal from now on.
  • Alcohol consumption will be strictly regulated in variety of cultural events (festivals, public events, exhibitions, theatrical performances, circus and other events). Let’s face it. our alcoholism problems are way too visible in our festivals and fairs. People raising glasses of beer or wine are the sign of illness in our society, that should not be seen in public.

But does it mean, that those suggestions are going to be more effective this time? Maybe, government should forbid selling alcohol all together? Or wouldn’t it be better travel back in time to the prohibition days in US and learn from it?

The USA’s prohibition law, ratified in 1920, did not work as expected – alcohol trade has moved to the underground and helped to establish mafia. It did not reduce alcohol consumption as it was expected to do. In fact, even more instances of alcohol poisoning were recorded, caused by substances that were sold as alcohol. Bans in USA not only did not reduce alcohol consumption, but created an illegal alcohol trade, increased crime rate and by far did not made its society sober.

Perhaps, politicians who keep on suggesting regulations should sober up and realize that restrictions are not only going to be ineffective, but they might as well simply waste time and resources by interfering with the liberty of individuals and spending taxpayers’ money in order to fight their imaginary battles.

However, if they truly want to solve alcoholism problem, it might be more useful to familiarize with it in depth and understand how complex this problem actually is. This problem will not be tackled by playing with hours, increasing drinking age census, strengthening regulations on advertising or even building specialized shops with cameras in it.

Instead of attempting to alter the habits of alcohol consumers, it would be more useful to acknowledge that alcoholism is an illness. Therefore, to solve this problem, it is essential to:

  1. Guarantee help and accessibility of information for those who suffer from excessive alcohol consumption. Encourage them to seek medical institutional help. Medical institutions could offer, depending on the progression of the illness, a cognitive behaviour therapy. This therapy can help to identify the reasons, which trigger excessive drinking, and help to gain self-control. In some cases, an accessible medical treatment should be offered.
  2. Encourage people who have alcohol consumption issues to join help groups, anonymous alcoholic clubs and abstinence associations. There they could meet with people, who encounter similar problems, and advise with specialists, who could help to resolve their problems and provide support throughout their treatment.

Bans and control over alcohol consumption will never help to treat alcoholism. It is worth to encourage approach of various associations that promote solving excessive alcohol consumption issues by looking at experience and research and not basing it on prejudice. After all, in case of any illness, people always turn to specialists in order to recover.

Cheers to masterminds in our government and let’s hope they are going to sober up soon enough to realise the bitter truth of drinking.


Roberta Dombrovskytė is the Vilnius Students for Liberty Communication manager, and a Public policy and Management graduate from Mykolas Romeris University, Vilnius, Lithuania.