Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN
For Lithuania, it was just too much to bear.
After a fortnight of grocery retailers’ mandatory carding, Lithuanian lawmakers gave in to the angry alcohol buyers’ demand to repeal the order and passed this week an amendment that now requires sellers to ID only those alcohol buyers who seem to be underage.
The change to the Law on Alcohol Control was adopted swiftly, with 92 votes in favor, three against and eight abstentions. The amendment will go into force after Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė signs it into law.
«Sensitive» time killed initiative
Disappointed, Laurynas Vilimas, executive director at the Lithuanian Association of Trade Enterprises (LPIA), says that the lawmakers have given in to the public’s pressure being worried, first of all, of the impact of the anger on their electoral prospects. Lithuania is gearing up for a new parliamentary election on October 9.
«To me it is evident that all those MPs who voted down the amendment to the Law on Alcohol Control did not care of the initiative’s good results, aims or aftermaths. The sensitive pre-electoral cycle has killed the initiative,» the LPIA leader told BNN.
Besides, now, he argues young people will able to easier acquire alcoholic beverages, which, again, goes against the state’s resolve to curb alcohol consumption, especially among youngsters.
«Sales persons will be intimidated now to ask young buyers for ID as, in doing so, they will hear their dissatisfaction and arguments that they are way older and that the law on mandatory ID carding has been repealed,» Vilimas said.
The ID requirement has been enforced in all Maxima, Iki, Rimi, Norfa, Prisma, Aibe and Lietuvos Kooperatyvų Sąjunga stores across Lithuania since September 2. The retailers’ campaign was based on a memorandum, signed by seven retail companies with the Lithuanian minister of health in June. Lithuanian market’s newcomer Lidl did not join the campaign.
Alcohol sales dropped 9 per cent
The retailers argued that their target was prevention of alcohol sales to minors and increase public awareness. Amid the concerns that personal data might be collected through the mandatory carding, the grocery retail giants rushed to calm down the population, claiming that the suspicions were utterly ungrounded.
«This campaign is aimed at preventing the sale of alcohol to juniors, increasing society’s awareness and responsibility; it will take time, however, residents will get used to this,» Rosvaldas Gorbačiovas, director of corporate affairs at the retail chain Maxima, said ahead of the mandatory ID enactment.
According to Vilimas, chains that signed the memorandum hold at least 95 per cent of the Lithuanian alcohol trade market in stores.
« Profits generated by alcohol is not a priority for us, and showing an ID to a cashier is a symbolic act of demonstrating that you are a conscious consumer,” Vilimas defended the initiative.
To believe him, the sales throughout the duration of the measure- from September 2 to September 27 – have dropped 9 per cent in the country.
«In other words, 40 000 bottles of vodka or 30 000 bottles of beer have not been bought daily due to the carding,» the LPIA head insisted.
Backlash from politicians
Despite good intentions most of Lithuanians just cannot wait to see the hassle-free alcohol purchases again.
«To see how many people, especially those elderly, were humiliated by the insane injunction was appalling. Although I am over 60 with salt-and-pepper hair, a salesman at local grocery asked me for ID. She also ID-ed an elderly lady behind me. She was startled and with no document on her she was refused the sale. I helped her out with the purchase and we exchanged some heated remarks to the measure,» Pranas Petrošius, a former Social Democratic mayor of the town Tauragė in southwestern Lithuania, who now vies for a parliamentary seat, said in his Facebook post.
As a matter of fact, most of Lithuanian politicians were from the outset uneager to hand over retailers the initiative of alcohol consumption curbing in the country. Moreover: many of them suspected that some hidden agenda laid behind the mandatory carding.
For example, Aurelijus Veryga, president of Lithuania’s National Tobacco and Alcohol Control Coalition and a candidate to Lithuanian parliament on the list of the Lithuanian Peasant and Green Union (LVŽS), voiced his suspicion that mandatory carding of all alcohol buyers in the country has given businessmen «extra levers to put politicians under the obligation of negotiating with them.»
LVŽS’s leader Ramūnas Karbauskis has been even more vociferous against mandatory carding of all alcohol buyers, claiming that the motion «taunts» society.
Amid the outcry, he has vowed that, if his party gets a chance to put its hands on formation of a new government in the country, he will spearhead legislation that would introduce a state monopoly in alcohol trade.
A good deal of Lithuanian politicians and activists have suggested selling alcohol in specialised stores, for a shorter timeframe, or just to older residents- all of which has been seen as part of a public relations campaign.
LPIA numbers should be doubted
With the resistance against mandatory ID’ing surging and more signs appearing that Lithuanian MPs will not put up with the new practice, major grocery chains hurried to release figures showing that alcohol sales at their stores have been edging down after the enactment of the measure.
But Lithuanian legislators seemed skeptic to the insistence, calling it the retailers’ public relations gimmick.
«Did you see the numbers yourself? And who released them if not the Lithuanian Association of Trade Enterprises itself? It can put out any numbers they want. Unless I see a reflection of the measure in official stats on excise collection, I won’t heed what they say,» Bronius Bradauskas, an influential Social Democrat told BNN.
He called the ID initiative «redundant» and «insane» although Lithuania was following in footsteps of some developed nations, like Sweden or the United States, in ID’ing alcohol buyers.
Some «extreme» amendments
Ahead of the repeal, several Lithuanian parliamentarians, as if vying for their determination to get the law scrapped, had submitted «extreme» amendments.
For example, Vytautas Kamblevičius, a MP from the Law and Justice Party, had logged in a proposition foreseeing grocery shops a penalty of 30 to 50 euro for daring to ask buyers for identification documents.
«I believe this is the only way to stop this absurd demand which was hastily introduced by the Lithuanian Association of Retail Companies together with the ministry of health,» Kamblevičius was quoted as saying by local media.
His amendment did not garner required support though.
Meanwhile, Gintaras Tamošiūnas, a member of the Labour Party at the parliament, registered amendments which, if passed, would have prohibited sellers from asking older people to show identification when buying alcohol. The proposition also failed to pave its way into the legislation.