Lithuania liquor ad ban creates headache over foreign magazines

VILNIUS (Reuters) - Print distributors in Lithuania are being forced to tear pages out from magazines such as Vogue and National Geographic after the country introduced an alcohol advertising ban on Jan. 1.

The situation is an unintended consequence of an alcohol control bill signed into law in June by President Dalia Grybauskaite, who herself likened the outcome to medieval times and said it brought shame on the country.

Lithuania is third largest alcohol consumer, per capita, in the world. It has forbidden liquor adverts as one of a number of measures aimed at curbing widespread alcohol abuse.

Press Express, the largest distributor of print media, now risks being slapped with a fine of up to 30,000 euros per page if it fails to remove or cover up liquor advertisements, its general manager, Vigintas Bartasevicius, said.

“We know that we create a problem for ourselves and for the publishers, because we cover their content and advertising which was paid for,” he said.

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“Our buyers are of course very unhappy, they created a scandal on social media, so even the official institutions have begun thinking about solving this.”

Bartasevicius said the country’s largest retail chain had refused to stock the altered magazines, deeming them “damaged goods”.

However, he said the publishers of National Geographic had told him they could not create an edition of a magazine free from alcohol ads for a country which only sells up to 500 copies of a title per month.

Politicians do not yet have any solution to a problem they have created.

“It is reminiscent of medieval times and it brings international shame on Lithuania,” Grybauskaite told reporters on Wednesday. “We must have laws without such flaws.”

Reporting by Andrius Sytas; Editing by Simon Johnson and Alison Williams