In 2008 the Lithuanian Parliament accepted an amendment to the Alcohol Control Law that would install a comprehensive ban on alcohol advertising in the year 2012. Now with only 6 months left the pressure to withdraw the ban is steadily rising. The alcohol industry has stepped up its lobbying activities and politicians are backing out.
The Lithuanian National Tobacco and Alcohol Control Coalition reports that Sven Langeneckert, Vice President of the Carlsberg Group traveled to Lithuania to convince the prime minister why the total ban must be stopped. Lietuvos Rytas, a Lithuanian newspaper even quoted the Carlsberg Vice President as saying that the company would leave the country if the ban would come into force. Such a withdrawal could possibly have a severe impact on the Lithuanian economy as Carlsberg owns the countries’ leading brewery Svyturys-Utenos Alus. The quote was later denied by Carlsberg, stating that ‘Mr Langeneckert’s words were misinterpreted’, and that the group would not withdraw from Lithuania’.
Surprisingly support for the ban seems to have declined even in the Conservative party, which has gone on record to state that they support evidence based measures to deal with the problem of alcohol. Even their election program stated that they want to ban alcohol advertising. However, a group of 14 members of parliament (mostly from the Conservative party) have registered an amendment to the Alcohol Control law, that would effectively remove the upcoming total ban on alcohol advertising. These politicians say that it is not technologically possible to implement a ban on foreign television stations and the internet. They also say that the ban will discriminate Lithuanian media compared to Russian media. According to them Lithuanian television stations will move to other countries. They have also presented a table with European countries that shows how alcohol advertisement regulation differs between countries. Yet Norway, with its ban on alcohol advertising is left out of the table. In an interview on the website of the Nordic Alcohol and Drug Policy Network Aurelijus Veryga, President of the Lithuanian National Tobacco and Alcohol Control Coalition thinks that these members of parliament are backed and informed by the alcohol industry.
While a public opinion survey showed that a majority of the general population of Lithuania supports the idea of total ban, it seems opponents are going all out to turn public opinion against the ban. Parties from all around society are getting involved in the debate. Aurelijus Veryga tells of pressure coming from sports associations when beer producers told them that they will stop supporting basketball if advertising will be restricted. Veryga also tells of blackmailing during discussions on alcohol advertisement restrictions in 2008 by the former director general of Lithuanian National Radio and Television who said he would not be able to translate football matches if this law will be accepted because of Carlsberg advertisements before every game. Research however found that there weren’t any advertisements from Carlsberg before the games. Meanwhile the ban is being discussed by journalists in terms of ‘a Taliban-like measure’ and as a measure ‘that suits more an Islamic, not an EU country’.
Meanwhile the true discussions about the ban seem to have moved behind closed doors. Journalists were told that this was an internal and not a public discussion. In one case a debate on the issue was planned in a university, yet a day before the debate the alcohol industry spokesperson withdrew from the debate. A news website removed its message about the event and contacted the students stating they: “received orders from the top to remove information about the discussion”. Not surprisingly the website in question is owned by a company that also owns the biggest commercial television station of Lithuania as well as one of the biggest spirits production companies in the country. According to Veryga this is an example of the way that big media companies systematically block the views of anybody in support of the ban.
A total ban on alcohol advertising can be an effective measure, especially to protect young people from the harmful effects of exposure to alcohol advertisements. Research suggests that exposure to alcohol advertisements can result in an earlier onset of alcohol consumption as well as increasing the amount of alcohol that is consumed. An overall ban is more effective than restricting certain contents or the volume of alcohol marketing. A ban on alcohol marketing is not necessarily in conflict with European law. Furthermore, a ban on alcohol marketing is in line with the upcoming European Action Plan of the World Health Organization.