Alcohol consumption in Lithuania is gradually going down, but the change has little to do with the government's restrictions and tax hikes, a study by Vilnius University researchers shows.
The alcohol consumption habits study, conducted for the third time, suggests that Lithuanians are becoming “more western” in their drinking habits.
“The overall alcohol consumption is going down, fewer people drink every week and more consume alcohol twice or three times a month and only on special occasions,” says Vita Karpušienė, an associate professor at Vilnius University. “Our habits are becoming more Western.”
In 2018, Lithuanians over the age of 15 consumed 13.8 litres of pure alcohol on average. Legal alcohol sales dropped 7 percent last year, the study shows, but more people went to shop for drinks across the border to Latvia and Poland. Therefore, the effective drop in alcohol consumption only stood at 1 percent.
The study looked at how strict restrictions introduced by the government last year – which included hikes in excise duties, raising legal drinking age, restrictions on selling hours and a total ban on alcohol advertising – influenced alcohol consumption.
According to Karpuškienė, the drop was part of a long-term trend which started around 2009 and had more to do with cultural shifts than with the additional restrictions. The latter did not appear to make a significant difference overall.
Valdas Sutkus, the president of the Lithuanian Business Confederation which commissioned the study, insists that the higher taxes on alcohol pushes people to go on shopping trips in neighbouring countries. Last year, Lithuanians bought three times more alcohol abroad than before, the study shows.
“This shows that, in one year, we may have an even bigger number of people going to shop across the border, to Poland, Latvia. It means that businesses and state coffers will lose even bigger sums of money,” Sutkus says.
Estonia decided to cut its alcohol excise duty by 25 percent from July and Latvia has announced plans to follow in its footsteps. However, Lithuania's Finance Minister Vilius Šapoka then said the country would not follow suit.
Karpušienė believes that some restrictive measures introduced by the government “make no sense” and do not help fight alcohol abuse, which is their declared purpose.
“For instance, people usually drink excessively at home or at someone else's home, while in restaurants and bars it happens four times less often. However, the government put more restrictions on alcohol sales in these establishments, while alcohol consumption at home is beyond control,” she says.