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Campaign against hard drinking in Russia starts bearing fruit

November 27, 2012, 17:51 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, November 27 (Itar-Tass) — The Russian authorities’ crusade against heavy drinking – a social ill which in Russia’s modern folklore is commonly portrayed and referred to as the Green Dragon (with a pitch of bitter irony, of course), seems to have started bearing fruit at last, although Russians still keep drinking a lot. Several sociological polls point in this direction. However, some skeptics call the results in question.

Specialists at the national pollster VTsIOM have attempted to find out how effective the legislative methods of restricting the sale and consumption of alcohol really are. According to a VTsIOM poll, the share of those who take alcohol regularly (several times a week) reduced from eight percent in July 2009 to 5% in November this year. The group of those who take alcohol several times a month and even more frequently, has shrunk from 49 percent to 38 percent.

In the meantime, the share of those who do not take alcohol at all has been up from 24 percent to 33 percent.

However, as the same opinion poll has shown, the ban on night-time trade in alcohol practically does not work. In any case over the past month many Russians chanced to come across instances of abuses of the law regulating trade in and the consumption of alcohol. As many as 60 percent of the polled said they saw people drinking in public, 41 percent saw alcohol being sold at crowded places, 34 percent were witnesses to alcohol being sold to minors and 29 percent saw or heard advertisements of alcohol on television, on the radio or in the cinema.

VTsIOM sociologists confirmed the monitoring of social media by the agency Social networks. Of the 516 reports devoted to the struggle against alcohol most were negative (54 percent), and only eleven percent of posts in the personal blogs or on Internet portals voiced support for the policy of restricting the sale of alcohol.

Most reports described the ineffectiveness of the measures being taken from the standpoint of users (88%). A large share of the posts contains fears the restrictions on trade in alcohol will push up the rate of poisonings with surrogate alcohol (31 percent).

“Not a single sociological poll can be trusted! When asked about alcohol-related themes, people have invariably told lies and they will keep telling lies,” the director of the Center of Federal and Regional Alcohol Market Studies, Vadim Drobiz says with certainty.

“I have far more trust towards the statistics agency Rosstat,” the daily Komsomolskaya Pravda quotes Drobiz as saying. “According to the agency alcohol consumption grows by 2-3 percent a year. And it is only legal products that I am talking about.”

According to the expert, the sociological poll pursues only one aim – finding some excuse for the campaign against heavy drinking underway in the country. Or the sociologists believed every single answer they got. For instance, the one who told them, “No, I do not drink at all!” in reality had in mind this thought, “A glass or two with a good snack? That does not count!”

In the meantime, officially registered alcohol addicts in Russia, according to the chief sanitary doctor number more than three million. The country consumes an annual ten liters of alcohol per person, including breast-fed babies. If one throws in other alcohol-containing products (perfumery, household chemicals, etc.), the rate will be as high as 18 liters. That’s twice the amount the World Health Organization identified as a health hazard. Back 100 year ago, during World War II Russia was consuming a tiny 3.4 liters of alcohol per capita.

Child and teenage drinking is of particular concern to the authorities. According to the weekly Argumenty I Fakty, the narcological services have on their files 91,000 young people aged 15-17 and 20,000 alcohol abusers aged 10-14. And more than 2,500 teenagers have been diagnosed as alcoholics. That’s only those who have turned to doctors or assistance. According to Rosstat 80.8 percent of young people in the age group between eleven and 24 take alcohol regularly. In the rural areas this rate is 90 percent. The average age at which children and teenagers start taking beer and mild alcoholic beverages has been down from fourteen years to eleven.

Alcohol abuse causes about half a million premature deaths every year, and one in four deaths in Russia must be directly blamed on alcohol – about 30 percent of men’s deaths and fifteen percent of women’s deaths.

In August 2009 President Dmitry Medvedev said that alcoholism in Russia had become a national disaster and declared struggle against this ill as one of his social priorities.

In December 2009 the government approved of a concept of preventing and reducing the level of alcoholism in the country. The concept was expected to lower the consumption of alcohol in the country by 2013 to 15 liters per person a year, and by 2020, to no more than eight liters a year. The concept identified a number of tools for achieving that goal – promotion of healthy lifestyles, support for efforts by various organizations, legislative restrictions on retail trade, a ban on latent advertising and abolition of wine and beer festivals.

New fines were introduced for drinking in public places. Showing up in a public place drunk is punishable with a fine or with an administrative arrest for a term of up to fifteen days.

In July 2010 a harsh law prohibiting drunk driving was passed. Last summer bans were imposed on selling beer at night and restrictions on trade in beer, which was declared an equivalent of alcohol. In October 2012 fines went up for selling alcohol to children – to up to half a million rubles. And involvement of minors in systematic drinking is now a punishable criminal offence. The jail term for it is two to six years.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev several days ago addressed the country with a video message devoted to road accident rates. He called for tightening punishment for drivers who abuse alcohol or drugs. His idea of raising fines for ignoring the red light and for abusing the speed limit to 500,000 rubles has triggered a tide of angry comments from society, which earlier supported the authorities’ measures against hard drinking. Medvedev’s latest proposals were interpreted as too harsh.