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03 December 2023

Lithuania hides booze ads from drinkers with stickers


Lithuanian press distributors said Thursday they had started plastering over alcohol ads in foreign magazines with special stickers under a new advertising ban aimed at curbing some of the world's heaviest drinking.

A blanket ban on alcohol ads, which includes billboards, TV, radio, the printed press and the internet, came into force on January 1 in the Baltic EU state, with no exemptions for foreign media.

Lithuania has also raised the legal drinking age to 20 from 18 years.

"We have people who now review every page, and we cover the ads before we distribute the magazines," said Vigintas Bartasevicius, managing director at Press Express, the largest distributor of foreign papers.

Among those already marked with red stickers explaining the ban are Vogue, Newsweek and Germany's Stern magazine, he told AFP.

Before the stickers were introduced, distributors simply tore pages with the ads out of the magazines, but this practice did not go down too well.

President Dalia Grybauskaite dubbed it a "shameful reminder of medieval times" and called for a change.

Local authorities said they would not impose fines for the time being to allow the market to adjust to the new law.

But critics say the market of 2.8 million consumers is too small to get special editions free of alcohol ads, and opposition lawmakers have tabled a bill to exempt foreign media.

Statistics show that the average Lithuanian over the age of 15 consumed the equivalent of 13.2 litres of pure alcohol in 2016, down by nearly a litre per person compared with a year earlier but still one of the highest levels across the globe.

Fighting alcoholism was among the key campaign promises that gave the Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union a surprise victory in the 2016 elections.