VILNIUS - Lithuania and Latvia rank among the European Union's highest consumers of alcohol, a recent survey reveals. Residents of the two Baltic countries, along with those of new EU members Romania, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia, consume more than 18.5 liters of pure alcohol per year, according to a report by the British Institute of Alcohol Studies.
Results of the survey were presented during the conference "Nordic and Baltic Countries Against Drugs," which was held in Lithuania's parliament Nov. 3-4.
Estonia slightly lags behind its Baltic neighbors, consuming 15.5 to 18 liters of high-proof alcohol per year, the same as Ireland, France and Spain. Yet the Baltic state still ranks above the EU average, which is some 15 liters per year.
In fact, only a handful of EU members scored below the 15-liter average. Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Slovenia, Poland and Greece consume the least amount of alcohol, with an average annual consumption of less than 14 liters.
Yet the high amount of Lithuanian and Latvian non-drinkers may atone for the two countries' unenviable reputation. According to the survey, 15 percent of Latvians never drink alcohol, placing the country third in Europe after Spain and Portugal. Lithuania, where one in 10 peopled abstain from drinking, also ranks high, falling above Greece, Denmark, Slovakia and Germany, where teetotalers make no less than 5 percent of the population.
But Latvia and Lithuania differ substantially when it comes to drinking among minors.
While in Lithuania less than 15 percent of 15- to 16-year-olds are involved in binge-drinking, the Latvian figure is more than 21 percent, topping the European binge-drinking list. EU members Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Great Britain and Ireland are also high on the list. In Estonia, 15-21 percent of students reportedly binge drink.
Yet the worst may still be ahead, as the survey shows that, since the late '90s, binge-drinking has continued to increase in 10 new EU member states.
The survey also provided shocking figures on the dangers of drinking: More than 25 percent of deaths among 15- to 29-year-old males, and more than 20 percent in the 30- to 44-year-old age group, could be attributed to alcohol. The figures for women are about 10 percent in both age categories.
Another mind-boggling figure presented in the study is 125 billion euros 's the average annual cost wrought by drinking. According to the survey, 36 billion euros is related to mortality, while 17 billion euros goes toward medical bills and 14 billion euros toward unemployment, among other areas.
The study also offered ways to fight drinking, including a ban on alcohol advertising, increasing the minimum drinking age, better education and a preventive tax policy.
But according to Danguole Mikutiene, deputy chairman of Lithuania's parliamentary health commission, such measures cannot be pursued in haste.
"The fight against alcohol should be systematic and should involve all the institutions concerned," Mikutiene said at the briefing during the conference.