Health Ministry plans to reduce drink drive limit, tighten alcohol advertising

The permitted blood alcohol limit should be reduced to 0.2 permilles (promiles) for all drivers and a raft of restrictions introduced on alcohol advertising and promotion according to a Health Ministry plan for 2020-2022 submitted to government December 19.

The draft plan for Reducing Alcohol Consumption and Alcoholism 2020-2022, wants to reduce the prevalence of alcoholic beverages and the harm they do to to public health,,while at the same time improving the availability of treatment for alcoholism and rehabilitation services.

Alcohol consumption in Latvia is increasing every year, so it is important to limit its availability and explain the negative health effects of alcohol to the public, the Ministry pointed out.

Its notes say that in Latvia, in 2017, alcohol can be associated with more than 10% of "potential lost life years" and that among young people (aged 20 to 39 years) one in four deaths is related to alcohol. Figures quoted in the report suggest under-age individuals do not have too much of a problem getting hold of alcoholic drinks. The number of prosecutions for selling alcohol or tobacco to minors rose from 186 in 2017 to 283 in 2018. Data from 2015 suggested the majority of 15 year-olds in Latvia said getting hold of alcohol was easy.

One of the ways of improving the situation, according to the plan, is to restrict the advertising of alcoholic beverages, which is also currently a focus of experts of the World Health Organization (WHO). To reduce alcohol consumption in society, especially among young people, the Health Ministry intends to ban the advertising of prices and discounts on beer and television on television and radio, as well as the advertisement of alcoholic beverages and discounts in print media, cinemas and the Internet.

It is also planned to prohibit deals such as "2 for 1" price offers.

Changes are also envisaged in gambling halls and casinos, where complimemtary alcoholic drinks will no longer be available. The sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages will be allowed only in premises that are structurally separated from the gambling venue.

At the same time, the Ministry's specialists will work on proposals for amendments to the Road Traffic Act, reducing the blood alcohol limit for all drivers to 0.2 permilles. Currently the blood alcohol limit in Latvia is 0.5 permilles (0.2 permilles for drivers in their first two years after passing their test). 

Estonia, Poland and Sweden also have the 0.2 permilles level, while in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia, blood alcohol levels are not tolerated even at lower doses, the Ministry said.

It is planned to introduce a new state-paid outpatient group psychotherapy program based on 12-step therapy principles.

The Ministry noted that it is important to explain to the public, especially young people, pregnant women and parents, the harmful health effects of alcohol, which the Ministry intends to do.

Along with educational campaigns, it is planned that the labeling of alcoholic beverages will include information that encourages citizens not to consume alcohol.

Likewise, information on the ingredients and nutritional value of the drink will have to appear on the label.

"It is important to ensure that the restrictions that are already in place are working effectively, which is why it is planned to tighten up the supervision of the sale of alcohol to minors, as well as to strengthen the control of illegal alcohol distribution," said the Ministry.

The Latvian Brewers' Union has previously stated that the goals of the plan are positive, but the question is how they are to be achieved. In their view the introduction of new restrictions should not be supported until the effectiveness of the rules so far established has been evaluated.

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