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Lithuania debates alcohol ad ban

  • 2002-05-16
  • Geoffrey Vasiliauskas
VILNIUS

The Lithuanian Parliament debated changes to the law on alcohol control last week, including a motion to bar alcohol adverts from being shown on television before midnight.

That would effectively mean a ban on all alcohol advertisements on TV since most stations go off the air around midnight. Those which do broadcast through the night run programming from abroad, without interruptions for locally produced commercials.

Existing regulations prevent alcoholic beverage advertising on TV until 10 p.m.. No change is proposed to a rule which allows such advertising on TV until 3 p.m. on weekdays, when most children are presumed to be at school.

Parliament voted in the amendment, proposed by maverick right-wing Christian Democrat Petras Grazulis, by 29 votes in favor, 19 against and 2 abstentions in a sparsely attended session.

Debate on the amendments pointed to the harmful effects alcohol advertising has on young people, but there was plenty of dissent.

New Union Social Liberal MP Nijole Steibliene accused the proposal's supporters of ignoring more pressing problems.

"Children in the bushes or school toilets are using narcotics in the middle of the day, and that means nothing to us," said Steibliene.

"About alcohol advertising after 10 p.m., remember that Lithuanian Radio and Television (Lithuania's cash-strapped public broadcaster) earns money from this advertising. You have totally forgotten this aspect. I'm sorry, Mr. Grazulis, if you have problems raising children, you shouldn't put it on someone else's shoulders."

Liberal MP Algirdas Gricius objected to Grazulis' proposals on when alcohol adverts could be shown, adding a side swipe at Lithuania's decision to maintain daylight saving time this summer.

"We are the only such original state left which lives outside its own time zone. I suggest children go to bed at 10 p.m. so that they can enjoy the rising sun in the morning, and that we do not approve this amendment," said Gricius.

But Social Democrat MP Sigita Burbiene said the public faced difficulty obtaining unbiased information on alcohol because of the beverage industry's influence on public information campaigns.

Other changes discussed were plans to define the extent of alcohol-free zones around schools and religious buildings within which the sale of alcohol would be banned.

One of the issues involved is a plan by the Vilnius municipality to set up a beer garden in the square close to the city's cathedral in the summer months.

Very few strong alcohol producers currently advertise on Lithuanian TV. Among the handful are Metaxa, Grant's Whiskey and the occasional new brand of vodka introduced by one or another of the state-owned producers in Lithuania. Billboard advertising of alcoholic drinks is banned.

Currently all producers of strong alcoholic drinks in Lithuania are state-controlled, although that monopoly is scheduled to end in mid-2003.