Latvians will still be able to get booze at gas stations

Alcohol sales in gas station shops will not be restricted, as decided by the majority of the Saeima Social and Labor Affairs Committee on April 16.

The Saeima Committee is preparing amendments to the Alcohol Circulation Law with the aim of reducing the circulation of alcohol. So far, in the second of three readings, the majority of the Social and Labor Affairs Committee of the Saeima has supported plans to raise the age at which alcohol can be bought to 20. There is also support for a ban on the sale of alcoholic beverages on weekdays and Saturdays from 8 p.m. to 10 a.m. and on Sundays from 6 p.m. There are also plans to restrict online ordering of alcoholic beverages.

The most discussed issue on the Commission's agenda on Tuesday April 16 was whether to stop the sale of alcohol in shops of gas stations in Latvia. This practice, European-wide, is only common in Latvia, Lithuania, Greece, Cyprus, and the Netherlands.

The argument for such a restriction is to reduce the chances of getting hold of an alcoholic drink while driving.

"The legitimate aim of protecting the public interest, health and safety on the road, in our opinion, outweighs the aim of protecting legal competition, but this is of course a wider discussion," said Artjoms Uršuļski, Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Health.

"The aim was mainly to curb these impulse purchases. The fact that we offer to buy alcoholic beverages at petrol stations, however, is a kind of signal that we are legitimizing that it is OK to drive a car and drink alcohol," said one of the proposers, MP Zane Skujiņa-Rubene of New Unity.

The ban on alcohol sales at petrol stations would apply to 82 businesses and some 530 retail outlets. However, cases vary - in many regions, the shop at the gas station is the only shop in the area. Very often, the gas retailer and the shopkeeper are not the same company. In addition, in many places gas stations are located close to grocery shops, where the sale of alcohol is not prohibited.

The Association of Fuel Traders, the Ministry of Economy, and other authorities called the proposal to ban alcohol sales near gas stations a distortion of competition.

As a result, four MPs voted in favour, two against and four abstained on two similar proposals to ban the sale of alcoholic beverages in shops near petrol stations. The proposals were therefore not supported.

They will also have to be voted on in the plenary session of the Saeima, as well as on the amendments to the law in its third - final - reading.

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