By Paul Goble
The Russian government claims that Russians have reduced their alcohol consumption by almost 30 percent over the last decade, but in fact, while they may be drinking less legal alcohol, they are increasingly turning to cheaper and more dangerous surrogates that are now killing more than 40,000 people a year.
In a new commentary (russian.eurasianet.org/node/65016), Alina Musina cites estimates which suggest Russians are now consuming 700 million liters of surrogates, ranging from samogon to paint thinner, alongside 996 million liters of officially registered hard liquor (gks.ru/wps/wcm/connect/rosstat_main/rosstat/ru/statistics/enterprise/retail/ and bbc.com/russian/features-38372029).
If those figures are correct, they certainly mean that Russians are consuming nearly twice as much alcohol as the Russian government acknowledges and they almost certainly mean that Russians, hurt by the economic crisis, are now buying cheaper surrogates than more expensive registered hard liquor.
According to Rosstat, Russians consumed far less alcohol this year than ten years ago. In 2007, they consumed 9.4 liters of pure alcohol, above the eight liter limit for healthy living set by the World Health Organization; but this year, they drank only 6.6 liters of pure alcohol. That would be a significant improvement if it were true.
But there are good reasons to think Russians’ turn to surrogates has more than wiped out that improvement and indeed have made the situation even worse. For example, the number of Russians arrested in a drunken condition while committing crimes jumped from 302,000 cases in 2006 to 440,000 in 2016.
Moreover, rising prices and rising taxes on officially registered vodka and hard forms of hard liquor have made them relatively more expensive than many surrogates, like perfume and medications, 20 percent of which in Russia are now estimated to be purchased by those who seek intoxication (rbc.ru/investigation/business/24/11/2016/5836fabd9a7947f82e05d12b).