Seimas rows back on plan to stop kiosk beer sales

  © INNA

Lithuania's parliament has voted in favour of amending a law that would have seen corner kiosks banned from selling beer and cider in the new year.

An amendment allowing kiosks to keep selling the beverages indefinitely was passed on Tuesday by a vote of 47-12, with 13 abstentions.

Opponents of the reversal said it would be a backwards step in efforts to combat addiction and irresponsible alcohol use, especially among the young.

The head of the Seimas's health panel, Conservative MP Antanas Matulas, decried the move, saying the small street kiosks have made beer too accessible to underage drinkers.

"Studies by the World Health Organisation have shown that it's the accessibility of alcohol that encourages its usage," Matulas said. "And Lithuania ranks first in the European Union in terms of accessibility. We have more than 18,000 alcohol sales points, while Finland has 400."

Lawmakers who backed the scrapping of the ban were worried it would have been yet another blow for small business owners who've already been hit hard in the economic downturn.

Lithuania has an estimated 1,000 corner kiosks which account for 1 percent of all sales of alcoholic beverages in the country. About 30 percent of the kiosks' revenues come from sales of beer and cider. The kiosks are not allowed to trade in spirits such as vodka.