01.08.2023 - This fall, the Latvian Saeima is poised to consider implementing stricter procedures for alcohol purchases, a decision prompted by a troubling increase in the nation's alcohol consumption rate, which is currently the highest in Europe. Health experts and professionals are calling for urgent action in response to the escalating situation, as reported by Latvian Television on July 22.
Healthcare providers, such as Astrīda Stirna, head of the Riga Psychiatry and Narcology Centre, note an alarming trend. There has been a rapid increase in the number of patients, particularly those between the ages of 20 and 35, being brought to the centre by emergency services due to alcohol-related complications. This disturbing demographic represents working-age individuals already presenting with alcohol-induced psychoses, an indication of severe and long-term alcohol consumption.
In response to the rising crisis, lawmakers are considering amendments to existing laws governing the sale and purchase of alcoholic beverages. These proposed changes aim to reduce the accessibility of alcohol by limiting purchasing hours. Under the proposed amendments, alcoholic drinks would only be purchasable from 10:00 to 20:00 and until 15:00 on Sundays.
Additionally, the legal age for purchasing alcohol could be raised to 20 from the current age. In a move targeted at convenience, the amendments also propose banning alcohol sales at gas stations. These changes are championed by lawmakers like Inga Bērziņa (New Unity), who advocates for more robust regulations as an effective way to combat excessive alcohol consumption.
However, the road to adopting these amendments is challenging. Bērziņa highlights the strong influence of industry lobbyists motivated by commercial interests to oppose these changes. Despite this, the lawmaker remains optimistic, stating that passing the amendments will be challenging but achievable.
Elēna Zviedre, an expert on health promotion and addiction prevention at the Ministry of Health, echoes this sentiment. She acknowledges the contrasting perspectives on the issue, with the Ministry prioritizing public health while some organizations focus on the economic implications of the restrictions. Nevertheless, the Ministry remains steadfast, bolstered by support from the World Health Organization.