NAME YOUR POISON: The Saeima gets tough on school children, outlawing the public sale of alcohol on the first day of class.
RIGA - Latvia’s parliament banned alcohol sales on Sept. 1, which marks the first day of school in all former Soviet Union countries, often laden with intoxicated youths getting themselves into trouble. MPs say this measure is a part of an anti-alcohol campaign, but businessmen who say they will suffer losses because of the new law are sure it is nothing but a part of the parliamentary election campaign.
The prohibition on selling spirits will apply to all shops, restaurants, bars, hotels, night clubs and any other establishment where alcohol is for sale. This temporary sales ban will not only affect students, but all residents, including tourists.
About 1,500 people in Latvia die every year because of problems with alcohol, said Sarmite Kikuste, MP from the New Era party, the author of the controversial bill.
“Although it is illegal to sell alcohol to teenagers under 18 years of age, every Sept. 2, we read in newspapers about drunken students who end up in hospitals. This new regulation will help keep most teenagers sober, because they are not likely to provide themselves with spirits in advance.”
According to the Latvian Constitution, the law has been passed to President Valdis Zatlers for final approval, which has to be done during the next 10 days. Businessmen who trade in spirits plan to picket outside the Riga castle in order to persuade him to return the bill to the parliament.
“We hope the president will understand that this new regulation will not solve the problem. Students will buy drinks on Aug. 31, or even worse, they will buy substandard or contaminated alcohol. The losers will be the adults who planned a fancy dinner with a glass of wine, and businessmen who will have to close down bars and restaurants. It will be extremely difficult to explain this ban to tourists. We have never heard that a law like this passed in any other European country,” said Santa Graikste, managing director of Association of Hotels and Restaurants of Latvia.
Riga Mayor Nils Usakovs does not think there will be any problems with foreigners. “I am sure that tourists will be able to survive one day sober,” he said.
Members of the Association of Alcoholic Drinks Producers and Traders strongly believe that politicians want to create a better image of themselves before the parliamentary elections, set for this October.
“This bill is just a double game. The ruling coalition wants to make people think that they are doing at least something while they are running the election campaign. Our organization always held for moderate drinking and we never sold spirits to teenagers, while the state has not got any serious program to deal with young people’s alcoholism,” said Vitolds Bremmers, a board member of the association.
He said that illegal alcohol trading has reached about 38 percent in Latvia, and lawmakers do nothing to stop it.
“They are doing quite the opposite. The same day the parliament agreed on this ban on Sept. 1, the MPs also voted for validation of producing home-brew. Now every person who has his own garden has a right to produce 15,000 liters of home-brew per year. They are doing these things while legal business, which pays taxes, is walking dead.”
However, there is still a possibility that the president will not sign the bill on banning alcohol sales on the first day of school. “The lawmakers are acting like they do not really believe that people under 18 cannot get alcoholic drinks. I will have to think a lot before I approve this bill,” President Valdis Zatlers said on Latvijas Radio 1.