Lithuania’s Alcohol Regulation Won’t Combat Alcoholism
The paternalistic government in Lithuania is eager to fight individual urges to drink, and is willing to get tougher on alcohol consumers.
Alcohol consumption regulations in Lithuania are already among the strictest in European Union. According to WHO (World’s Health Organisation) Global status report on alcohol and health 2014, less than a third of countries apply restrictions on trading alcohol during certain days of the week. Meanwhile, the majority of countries do not apply severe restrictions on alcohol trading. That is why it is impossible to justify Lithuania’s alcohol trading restrictions using the EU experience as an example. It is worth remembering 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 neighbourhood when it comes to drinking. But we shouldn’t be worried, since our government is going to take care of our reputation. They are keen on fighting this never ending battle with alcohol consumption. Soon, this Wednesday, they are going to discuss certain measures :
- Requirement to sell drinks that have more than 7,5% alcohol in specialized shops. Making stronger alcoholic drinks less accessible to individuals. Implementation of this measure will likely have less of an impact on decreasing alcohol consumption, but much more likely to have higher impact on smaller businesses.
- Individuals younger than 20 years will not only be prohibited from buying alcoholic drinks, but will also be barred from entering specialized shops. Even though according to current legislation 18 years 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. Not only that, but also individual that is younger than 20 years will be forced to stand outside while someone who is of legal age buys drinks in specialized shop.
- Shopkeepers 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 have a valid reason to ask for it. As a result, buying your bottle of wine is going to feel much more criminal from now on.
- Alcohol consumption will be strictly regulated in a 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.
Are these regulations 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 make its society sober.
Perhaps, politicians who keep on suggesting regulations should sober up and realise that restrictions are not only going to be ineffective, but they also waste time interfering with the freedom of individuals and spending taxpayers money in order to fight their imaginary battles.
However, if they truly want to solve the alcoholism problem, it might be more useful to familiarise 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 specialised shops with cameras in.
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:
- 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.
- 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 the 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.
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