The Lithuanian government’s policy on alcohol is paternalistic, misled and ineffective.
by Vaidotas Norkus
Lithuanian statisticians have reported that on the average every Lithuanian drinks 14,3 liters (WHO 2014) of pure alcohol per year, so that we can proudly say that we are among the heaviest drinking countries in the world. The Lithuanian government takes many measures to reduce our high alcohol consumption, such as restrictions on times and places where you can buy and sell alcohol, minimum ages to buy alcohol, and advertising restrictions.
But there’s a problem with the assumption that these policies are based on: to take an average number provides very little information about reality. The truth is probably that while some of us might consume 30 liters, others only have a consumption level of one liter per month, therefore merely using the average does not reflect the real situation.
The number of our average alcohol consumption is driven up by the culture in Lithuania’s rural areas, where relentless alcoholism is recognized as a normality and day to day alcoholism is a casualty. It’s doubtable that the average litre counting is the most precise and significant number to reflect the situation. If we’d count the median of consumers, we’d probably have a very different number to show.
It’s the abuse, stupid
The real situation is that alcohol consumption is not a countrywide problem, but alcoholism is. However, there are no numbers regarding alcohol addiction among Lithuania’s population. Nobody has ever counted how big this problem is. It is clear nonetheless that if we took the people affected by alcoholism out of the average countings, our consumption would level in a European average.
Instead of fighting alcohol consumption in general, our government should rather focus on fighting alcoholism specifically. The reason why this issue isn’t addressed is obvious: It’s harder to find real solutions for psychological and sociological problems then it is to vilify the general public.
Positive change in this area is time consuming and implies more commitment to reform. One possible policy that the government could undertake would be to first accept alcoholism as a psychological disease and to inform Lithuanians about the harms of excessive alcohol consumption and possible ways of therapy, for instance via a web-page that could have a name such as www.alkoholharm.lt.
A second possible solution could be to include the 1100 public mental health centers which operate in Lithuania in the fight against alcoholism
Regulations pretending to fight the effects of alcoholism, such as restrictions on advertising and time limits for the sale of alcohol, end up targeting responsible consumers who drink for pleasure or to relieve stress. Countrywide Nanny State policies are punishing the entirety of the population.
If we want to fight alcoholism, we have to ask ourselves these two questions:
- What problem are we dealing with: Alcohol consumption in general, or specifically alcoholism?
- Is the origin of a higher alcohol consumption related to culture, economic opportunities or other factors in sociology?
Instead of asking these vital questions, the Lithuanian government only implements even tighter regulations, even though we already have the highest excise tax on alcohol in all of Europe, making Lithuanians relatively pay the most for alcohol. The only answer that the government provides is to reduce alcohol consumption altogether.
This aim is misinformed: you cannot solve the problem of alcoholism in Lithuania by driving down the general demand for alcohol. We need to ask ourselves what causes alcohol abuse and deal with our psychological welfare.
Vaidotas Norkus is an ESFL National Coordinator and the chairman of Students For Liberty Passau. He is a student of Governance and Public Policy at the University of Passau.
Originally published at www.studentsforliberty.org on January 30, 2017.