PETRAS MALUKAS / Getty Images

It's not as easy as it sounds. Some foreign magazines have been forced to rip out pages to adhere to the new restrictions.

Mike Pomranz
January 11, 2018

Eastern European countries have a reputation as some of the hardest drinking places in the world. The characterization isn’t unfounded. According to 2010 World Health Organization data, nine of the ten countries with the highest alcohol consumption per capita are all from this part of the globe: Belarus, Moldova, Lithuania, Russia, Romania, Ukraine, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. (Andorra breaks their streak by taking the number seven spot.) But Lithuania is trying to clean up its act: Effective at the start of this year, the former Soviet republic and current EU member raised the drinking age from 18 to 20 and banned alcohol advertisements across the entire country. But though these moves are intended to potentially reduce hangovers, they’re causing a different sort of headache all their own.

Removing boozy ads from billboards or local radio might be straightforward enough, but advertising originating from outside of Lithuania is proving far more difficult to control. In particular, international magazine brands have complained about having to plaster over ads with stickers or resorting to literally ripping out pages to comply with the new rules. Meanwhile, failure to adhere to the ban can result in fines of around $36,000 per page.

“We have people who now review every page, and we cover the ads before we distribute the magazines,” Vigintas Bartasevicius, managing director at Press Express, the largest distributor of foreign papers, was quoted as saying. Apparently, Lithuania is such a small market, most foreign magazines wouldn’t want to print an exclusive, alcohol-free edition for the country.

Amazingly, even Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaite, who signed the law, is troubled by this ongoing issue which is being called an unintended and apparently unforeseen consequence of the new restrictions. “It is reminiscent of medieval times and it brings international shame on Lithuania,” she told reporters. “We must have laws without such flaws.”

Grybauskaite has called for parliament to fix the current situation by tweaking the legislation. And Bartasevicius has suggested allowing an exception for foreign publications – a rule that, ironically, enough is already in place for the country’s tobacco advertisements ban. It’s a revelation that leaves you wondering how no one saw this coming.

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