Ossinovski drops gas stations alcohol ban

Hanneli Rudi
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Photo: Mihkel Maripuu

Even though Minister of Health Care and Labor Jevgeni Ossinovski said alcohol would disappear from gas stations as recently as late December, the ministry has now introduced draft legislation that does not include the ban and exempts small shops from moving alcohol out of sight. Changes will, however, ban alcohol advertisements on social media.

“Alcoholic beverages must be separated from other goods in the future and must not be visible from the outside,” the minister said when presenting the bill. The new version of the amendment does not obligate small shops to use partitions to hide alcohol. The latter obligation will only concern shops the sales and warehouse area of which exceeds 600 square meters.

The ministry has also dropped the plan of banning alcohol in gas station shops. The social ministry said that the decision to drop the restriction was made immediately after the bill was discussed by a special government working group made up of Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Kadri Simson (Center Party), Minister of Justice Urmas Reinsalu (IRL), and Health Care and Labor Minister Ossinovski. “Continued sale of alcohol in gas stations is the government's compromise proposal,” said the social ministry's press representative Birjo Must.

If the previous version of the bill prescribed a longer grace period for shops to hide alcohol, the ministers have now decided that all changes will take effect from the beginning of 2018.

The final version of the bill no longer includes the requirement aimed at small shops to only sell alcohol from behind the counter that has been included in all previous iterations since the fall of 2015.

“The bill obligates retailers to display alcohol separately from other goods and out of sight in shops with a total area of more than 600 square meters,” Must said. The area corresponds to smaller shops belonging to the Rimi and Maxima retail chains.

“As concerns beer coolers, they are allowed in small shops' (floor area under 600 square meters – ed.) alcohol areas,” Must explained. “It is important to only have either alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages in a single cooler.”

Even though the previous version of the bill to amend the alcohol and advertising acts did not mention online advertising, the government now found legislation must take into account what is happening on the internet, as well as the general popularity of social media. Ossinovski said that alcohol advertising has a certified and considerable effect on consumption habits, especially among young people. “Considering the growing influence of social media, we decided to ban all alcohol advertising on social media,” the minister announced.

Once the law enters into force in 2018, alcohol advertisements of any kind can only convey neutral information and cannot portray people, describe atmosphere, or tell stories.

The bill will ban alcohol tastings in shops as well as happy hours, or the possibility to offer alcohol at discount prices for part of the day. Buying alcohol in bulk packaging cannot be cheaper than buying beverages by the bottle. A ban will be put in place for outside display, while TV and radio ads cannot be run before 10 p.m. Alcohol advertising will also be banned on the front and back covers of magazine extras among other changes.

Additional requirements will be introduced obligating retailers to be more diligent in checking the age of buyers. The new law will also allow government agencies to carry out test purchases to monitor compliance with the ban of selling alcohol to minors as well as illegal alcohol trade.

The maximum fine for violating the advertising act will be set at €50,000 for legal persons, while corresponding fine rates will also be hiked in the alcohol act.

The government approved the health care minister's alcohol and advertising act amendments in the cabinet towards the end of last year. Next a working group was formed for the purpose of hearing additional proposals that included Ossinovski, Simson, and Reinsalu.

Should the Riigikogu pass the bill, changes will enter into force in full from January 1, 2018.