Lithuania’s ruling party LVŽS rolls out new initiatives targeting bad habits

No ever Lithuanian government endeavoured so much to change Lithuanians’ bad habits as the incumbent authority. For the autumn parliamentary session to be kicked off next week, new alcohol-access restricting proposals have been registered, including those on the size of packaging.

At the beginning of the year, the Lithuanian government introduced what is thought the strictest alcohol laws in the European Union, raising the legal drinking age from 18 to 20, restricting opening hours for off licenses and banning all advertising for beers, wines and spirits.

And smokers in Lithuania hear even more bad news, with the Government resolvedly set to embody a series of new restrictions to wean off the puffing habit.

Under new amendments, plain cigarette packaging will be introduced and the display of cigarettes would be banned and smoking in residential balconies, outdoor cafes, beaches and other places would also be prohibited.

The amendments to the Law on the Control of Tobacco, Tobacco Products and Related Products envision the commencement of the restrictions from November, 2022.

In the striving of cigarette plain packaging, Lithuania would not be a white sheep, as Ireland, France, Norway, Hungary, Slovenia, the UK, Australia and New Zealand have already taken the path.

If the amendments on the display of cigarettes and other tobacco products in retail outlets, except for specialised shops and sections, are green-lit, they will go into effect as early as November, 2019.

Not only stores will be banned to show the names of producers and prices, but also will be stripped of right to promote sales of tobacco goods and advertise sale discounts.

With the measures in place, sales of bootleg cigarettes are believed to surge in the country. One resident bought 60 packs of illegal cigarettes in Lithuania last year, according to the Lithuanian Statistics.

Already now smokers encounter inconveniences due to multiple restrictions, however their addiction will be even more tested with the new prohibitions.

The Seimas orchestrated by the ruling Farmers and Greens Party (LVŽS) also mulls banning people from smoking in outdoor cafes, balconies, terraces and galleries, closed bus shelters, on beaches and at children playgrounds.

Now smoking in Lithuania is banned in all educational and social institutions, closed working areas, except for special smoking zones, residential premises where non-smokers would be forced to inhale tobacco smoke, restaurants, cafes, burs, clubs, discos, internet cafes and other recreational premises, except for specialized cigar and pipe clubs.

People are also banned from smoking inside vehicles with under 18-year-olds and pregnant women among passengers.

Although there is an understanding that state has to care of its citizens’ health, many Lithuanians are disgruntled at the scope of the proposed restrictions.

«This is insane. Instead of focusing on how to improve people‘s lives, the legislators are nearly obsessed with one thing: draw up new bans. They’ve forgotten that bans do not usually work as they run counter the rebellious and curious nature of human‘s psyche. What is needed to tackle smoking and excessive alcohol consumption is education and dissemination of good examples,» Rasa Tarasevičiūtė, a medical worker in Klaipeda, told BNN.

Not completely happy with the proposals, PM Saulius Skvernelis said on Tuesday that the Health Ministry will have to improve its proposed package of measures to discourage smoking, but emphasised that, although the government backs a ban on tobacco displays in shops, it does not however sees «sufficient» arguments for plain cigarette packaging.

«We heard comments and arguments from the business side…But at the same time, we have to balance the interests of the smoking part of society, because imposing bans and restrictions without offering alternatives is a simple way, but it was not approved,» said Skvernelis.

«In the government’s opinion, to put it mildly, the introduction of plain packaging is a highly debatable measure. There is no such practice in the European Union or clear arguments that this would help achieve the result we are striving for,» he emphasised.

Health Minister Aurelijus Veryga, who is expected to introduce the tobacco restriction proposals to the Seimas in the weeks to come, met with officials from the National Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association, also on Tuesday.

Arnas Neverauskas, the association’s executive director, said after the meeting that an initiative to disallow tobacco manufacturer‘s name on cigarette packaging is tantamount to the «nationalisation» of tobacco producers’ brands.

«It’s a dangerous signal for foreign investors from a country positioning itself as a liberal economy,» he said.

The Seimas in late June approved the government’s three-year plan for increasing the excise tax on tobacco products by 6-14 per cent annually starting next March.

Neverauskas believes that authorities ought to exercise power of taxes in curbing tobacco use in Lithuania, not the radical measures which plain packaging is.

The association head warned that plans to introduce plain cigarette packaging may lead to an increase in production of counterfeit cigarettes and smuggling.

In the striving to make Lithuanians healthier and more health-conscious, Dainius Kepenis, a member of the ruling Farmers and Greens party, rolled out this week a far-reaching plan consisting of 100 proposals. It envisions issuing of health plans to every Lithuanian citizen, prohibition of high-fat foods and employment of alternative medicine.

According to the lawmaker, he spent two years drawing up the plan and, to believe Kepenis, health scholars view it in «a very positive light».

«If we take on its implementation now, we would see clear positive changes in three years from now. However, the job needs to be commenced immediately…Now I see only emulation of healthy living promotion in the country,» the MP told BNN.

Some critics pointed out however that the lawmaker, an avid healthy lifestyle wacko himself, did not mention in the document where to obtain the necessary resources for the plan’s execution.

However, Kepenis is relentless and claims that with the plan fulfilled, the rate of cardio- vascular deaths and illnesses will drop by 80 per cent in Lithuania just in three years.

Some medics said the ambition is too high and the target number is unfounded.

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