Degtinė "Five Wives"
Degtinė "Five Wives"
© AP / Scanpix

Lithuania has some of the strictest alcohol control restrictions now but alcohol consumption in the country remains very high, says the Chairman of the public institution "European Social, Legal and Economic Projects” (ESTEP) Klaudijus Maniokas.

Together with colleagues he did a study of the impact of alcohol control measures and examined how is has Lithuania fought or is fighting with alcohol and how is it going.

Lithuania stands out not only in alcohol consumption but also in terms of habits of alcohol consumption: in countries that consume alcohol moderately, people say that they drink on a daily basis or several times a week, while 34 per cent of Lithuanian people like to drink once a month, 25 per cent two or three times and 24 per cent once a week. This means that Lithuanians drink less but they get drunk.

25 per cent of Italians drink daily, in Portugal - 43 per cent, in France - 20 per cent, in Spain - 23 per cent, and in Lithuania - 1 per cent.

K. Maniokas says that he has two hypotheses why Lithuania and residents of the entire region consume so much alcohol.

First, it is explained by occupation. For example, compared to Finland that experienced the Russian imperial occupation and Sweden that is its neighbor clear differences in alcohol consumption can be seen: Finns consume 30 per cent more alcohol than the Swedes, even though both have similar alcohol control measures and the climate is similar too.

"My hypothesis is that this is a consequence of a long-standing Russian occupation and drinking politics. Last year, a very good book was published "Vodka Empire", about Russia's alcohol policy. In fact, there's a major argument that Russian expansionism was supported by the vodka tax. This was a deliberate drinking policy because this was the resources of the state" says K. Maniokas.

Secondly, according to the scientist, Eastern Europe can drink more because of the social transformation and fractures after the collapse of the Soviet Union: it led to mass poverty, injuries, change of status: "Who was nothing became everything and what was everything turned into nothing. The status of transformation is very important."

WHO statistics increased the alcohol by 1 liter per person

The study of alcohol control measures in Lithuania was commissioned by the Lithuanian Trade Association. However, according to K. Maniokas, it didn’t have an effect on content of the survey and its results.

It is becoming clear that alcohol control policy in Lithuania was launched in 1995 but consumption tendencies are different. For example, in 1995-2008 limited control measures dominated but alcohol consumption steadily increased. In the period of 2008-2012 more attention was given to this area and many new restrictions were introduced but the consumption continued to grow.

Since 2012 the legal consumption of alcohol began to decline gradually but K. Maniokas says that he does not know why this is happening.

"We don’t know. And most importantly, the Government isn’t even trying to find out what leads to the decrease and what measures do or don’t work. Now Lithuania is one of the first in Europe and the world by the amount of measures. And they want to increase their number even more. But it is clear that part of them have surplus, part don’t work, and the restrictions on people's freedom of choice is obvious. Our statement that we should evaluate the successfulness of the measures and to model the best possible policy according to this" says he, adding that an unreasonable approach is dominating, and something needs to be done.

According to Lithuanian statistics, in 2015 the legal alcohol consumption of alcohol per capita from 15 years is up to 14 liters of pure alcohol.

According to scientist evaluation, the consumption of alcohol that is not in the accounts is about 5 per cent of the legal consumption. It includes smuggled alcohol, produced at home or imported legally for their needs. At the assessment of the respondent, it sums up to about 1 or 1.2 liters.

However, K. Maniokas states that it’s obvious to everyone that a lot of alcohol is consumed in Lithuania.

"The only question is, how much do we consume. No one is talking about it, is it a lot? It is. But, for example, we believe that the assessment of World Health Organization is too high because of the alcohol that isn’t included into the accounts. In his opinion it’s about 5 per cent. That is, if the consumption in 2015 has reached 14 liters per person over 15 years, so in our evaluation, together with alcohol that is not included in the accounts, the result would be about 15 to 15.2 liters" says the respondent.

Gaudenas Galea, the World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe director of the Department of non-infectious diseases and health promotion life-time, on Tuesday presented the results of 2016 that show that Lithuania consumes more than 16 liters of accounted and unaccounted alcohol per adult.

According to G. Galea, situation in Lithuania is worse than in Russia or Belarus.

"In our opinion, it's too much. The actual number of should be 15 liters. More importantly, what the World Health Organization isn’t telling is that the tendency may be small but from 2012 it’s declining" says K. Maniokas.

When he was asked on the consumption of alcohol of tourists in Lithuania, K. Maniokas said that it’s not valid, and the Lithuanian Department of Statistics evaluates this factor.

Why Lithuania can’t increase the price of alcohol

The scientific literature usually distinguishes three main measures to reduce alcohol consumption: this price policy (excise, the minimum price), advertising control (advertising and event sponsorship restrictions, warnings about the harm of alcohol) and reduction of availability (age determination, decreasing selling points, sales time restriction, prohibition of sale in specific locations).

According to the data from the representative of World Health Organization G. Galea, Lithuania looks quite in regards to control of alcohol advertising and reducing the availability of alcoholic beverages, but, for example, the pricing policy didn’t do much.

K. Maniokas says that the explanation is simple: it doesn’t reflect economic logic.

"Usually doctors work in the World Health Organization, epidemiologists, they often tend to ignore the simple economic parameters. Lithuania isn’t in Iceland, it’s not an island. Lithuania is not even Norway or Sweden, which a lot of control options, Lithuania is a European country, bordering with other European Union countries, where there is no restriction of movement: Poland, Latvia are within reach. Also, there are countries with even smaller prices: Russia, Belarus, from where the alcohol is being smuggled. The price of alcohol, excise duties in there are lower than in Lithuania after the increase on the 1st of March" says the scientist.

According to the respondent, Lithuania is already among the six the European Union countries that have the highest wine taxes, although vodka and beer taxation falls in the average.

"In Scandinavian countries, where alcohol is more expensive, access is also great because people earn a lot. The World Health Organization says it is a good tool for residents with low incomes but, in our opinion, the statement is not based on facts because they underestimate the fact that people will buy illegal alcohol that is shipped from Poland and Latvia. These recommendations are short-sighted" says K. Maniokas.

What are other countries doing

The assessment of how the European Union, Norway, Iceland and Switzerland fights with alcohol, it was found that 25 countries prohibit the sale of alcohol to intoxicated persons, 16 states restrict the time of the sales, 14 countries prohibit the sale at the gas stations, 9 restrict sales days, 7 countries restricts the places where alcohol can be purchased. In this case, it is the measures of alcohol availability.

In regards to measures of advertising and marketing, 28 States apply restrictions on advertising but a complete ban on advertising was not seen anywhere. Another 16 countries restrict the promotion of events, 15 countries restrict the promotion of sales, 8 warn about the damage of alcohol in advertisements, and one state warns of damage on the packaging.

When he was asked if the researchers evaluated the proposal to restrict the consumption of alcohol in non-stationary outdoor cafés, K. Maniokas answered negatively. According to him, about 10 per cent of alcohol are consumed in cafes, already now it’s forbidden to drink strong alcohol in outdoor cafes, the majority of pure alcohol is consumed by those with a low-income, people from the regions, so he calls the ban on alcohol in non-stationary outdoor cafes ridiculous.

"The only possible justification is advertising, that someone sees people who are using it. But this is the effect ... Alcohol is consumed by characters in books, movies, a certain effect will remain, it’s impossible to completely restrict it" thinks K. Maniokas.

The respondent reminded that the World Health Organization's representative G. Galea mentioned the Italian case. Italy actually had issues regarding heavy alcohol consumption but managed to overcome them. K. Maniokas states that Italy didn’t really implement any alcohol control measures, although G. Galea mentioned the traditional measures: restriction of access, advertising bans and increased prices.

"In recent years, when the consumption in Italy fell the most no new measures have been implemented" says K. Maniokas.

"In 1960 both Italians and the French drank about twice as much Lithuanians do now. The consumption declined steadily over the past fifty years and it is impossible to explain with the alcohol control measures" explains K. Maniokas and adds that prosperity increased in these societies, values changed, a shift from material to most-material values happened.

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