Wednesday, June 29, 2011

UPDATE on Lithuania: will the alcohol advertising ban survive?

Civil society and public health organisations in Lithuania are asking help from international institutions and NGO-s to stress the evidence base for advertising ban in reducing alcohol consumption among young people.

“There is real need for international support mostly to tell that this ban is evidence based measure to reduce children's alcohol consumption and that this is implementable,” said Aurelijus Veryga, President of the Lithuanian National Tobacco and Alcohol Control Coalition.

Before the end of spring session in Lithuanian Parliament a Committee of the Development of Information Society held a special meeting but as Veryga explains the parliament seems to give voice only to one side of the discussion. “Chairman of this committee did not allow leaders of student organizations to speak and told that there should be "no market" in the Parliament. Even for representative of National Health Board (which is an advisory institution for the Parliament) was difficult to get right to speak. No arguments on child protection were taken into account and only arguments about financial media losses were taken seriously. There were misleading arguments also that there is no legal way to control advertising in Internet and TV's form other countries.”

Further discussion and voting on the law will be moved to autumn session when MP-s return from summer holidays.

Discussion about advertising ban is one-sided not only in the parliament but also in media, despite the fact that impartiality should be the cornerstone of free press in any democratic country.

“There are only small media channels, like catholic media, journal "Green'as", some small web media portals. All big media is against the ban,” said Veryga.

That doesn’t mean that these big media channels are not paying attention to the subject. “Sven Langeneckert, Vice President of the Carlsberg Group travelled 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’. The news was also printed in largest business news paper,” Veryga said.

Veryga is certain that if the advertising ban would be introduced it might possibly change the way EU countries regulate alcohol marketing. And alcohol industry understands that as well.

“I have no doubt that his step will create precedent for other EU countries to seek for such ban. As an example, big tobaccos fight in Australia to stop plain packaging idea. Usually tobacco and alcohol companies are choosing small countries to protect their interests because there are fewer politicians that they need to pressure. In smaller countries government capacity is usually less developed to protect public health interests. But if Lithuania will succeed then this will be even better example to follow than French regulation which already gave positive results in alcohol control.”

But to become the first EU country to have a complete ban on alcohol advertising Lithuania needs wider support. He has turned to EU and WHO for support. “I have not received any response from WHO or EC representatives to my e-mails. It doesn’t mean that they do nothing but I do not know if there is some response from them to our official institutions. I have received news from several MP's that every day they receive letters not only form local NGO's asking for ban, but also many letters from sports, dancing and other clubs that were supported by alcohol producers, asking to cancel ban. International support would show that Lithuanian NGO's are communicating evidence based recommendations,” Veryga concluded.

Nordic Alcohol and Drug Policy Network NordAN will hold its annual conference in Vilnius, Lithuania on 21.-23. October 2011.

By Lauri Beekmann

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good luck with the ban. The situation in Ireland is very similar. Politicians play the role of softening the public to accept policies made in the interests of vested interests - in this case the big alcohol manufactureres. Here and in the UK a meaningless phony concession is planned to curb below cost pricing to distract from the very real health and social problems building from alcohol misuse. Latest on Gargle Nation tells the story.