Feature Public Health

Russia’s alcohol problem

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d5240 (Published 17 August 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d5240
  1. Shaun Walker, Moscow correspondent
  1. 1Independent, London, UK
  1. s.walker{at}independent.co.uk

Alcohol misuse accounts for over half of deaths among working aged men in Russia. Shaun Walker looks at the reasons for the high rate and government attempts to reduce it

It is 8 in the morning at the square outside Belarus station in central Moscow, but the early hour has not stopped a large number of people from drinking. A man in an ill fitting suit is striding towards the metro entrance, a can of 9% “alcopop” in one hand, briefcase in the other. Several men with heavy luggage, just disembarked from an overnight train, are drinking bottled beers in the morning sunshine around a plastic table, while at an adjacent table a woman smokes a slim cigarette and quaffs a gin and tonic mix from a can. Two bearded tramps are asleep on one of the pavements, an empty vodka bottle by their side, and all around there are kiosks selling beer and shops that sell spirits.

The scene is not unusual in Russia, where alcohol consumption is legendary. Across the country’s vast Eurasian landmass, in cities, towns, and villages, millions of Russians engage in dangerous drinking that several studies have shown has an appalling effect on public health and has contributed to the country’s demographic crisis. Last year, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin became the latest in a long line of Russian leaders to attempt to tackle the problem, pledging to halve alcohol consumption among Russians by 2020. Measures include cracking down on illegal alcohol, increasing minimum prices for alcohol, and a full ban on advertising. Tighter regulation of beer, previously classed as a soft drink in many respects, has also been announced.

Several studies have suggested that alcohol misuse has contributed hugely to death rates over the past two decades, as Russian male life expectancy took an unprecedented …

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