VILNIUS - In an attempt to fight drinking among minors, legislators have passed an amendment banning the sale of alcohol on Sept. 1, the nation's official first day of school.
The amendment to the law on alcohol control was adopted on Nov. 9 by 60 votes to three. Twenty-six lawmakers abstained. The nation-wide ban includes not only shops, but also restaurants, cafes and clubs.
"[The first day of school] must be sober. We should have at least one day in a year in Lithuania free of alcohol," MP Julius Veselka said during Parliament's discussion.
But not every legislator supported his view.
Justinas Karosas from the ruling Social Democrat Party said he opposed introducing bans to solve social problems.
"When we base our policy on bans, we move toward the creation of a police state rather than a free country. I can not understand [Parliament's decision] since most of us know that bans do not solve problems. I can only regret that we have wasted our time [passing this amendment], which, in fact, will not have any effect," Karosas said.
Indeed, the majority of those who will be directly influenced by the new law agreed with the legislator.
Valdas Tekorius, director general at the Kalnapilis-Tauras brewery, said the decision has demonstrated Parliament's ignorance of the economy, as well as its self-impotence.
"By adopting this law, Parliament has effectively announced that authorities can no longer ensure control over state laws, especially prohibiting the sale of alcohol to youngsters, and that the only possible resolution is to ban the sale of alcohol," Tekorius said. "But it will be a very small victory, as those who want alcohol only have to buy it on the eve of Sept. 1, or simply take it from their parent's bar at home."
Mindaugas Gumauskas, marketing director of the Cilija pizza chain, also doubted whether the ban is justified.
"Alcohol in our restaurants is sold only when it's clear that the customer has a right to buy it. The ban will violate the rights of our everyday customers, and will hardly decrease drinking among teenagers," Gumauskas said.
Drinking among minors is a less significant problem in Lithuania than in many other European countries, according to EU statistics.
Less than 15 percent of Lithuanian 15- to 16-year-olds have a problem with binge drinking, which is characterized by the consumption of alcohol to intoxication. Comparatively, the figure for Ireland, Britain, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium and neighboring Latvia is more than 21 percent.
Yet adults in Lithuania are among the heaviest drinkers in Europe. Residents over the legal drinking age consume more than 18.5 liters of high-proof alcohol per year, the same as in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Romania and Slovakia, while the EU consumption average is 15 liters, a study by the British Institute of Alcohol Studies shows.