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Russia Crackdown On Beer

by Kester Kenn Klomegah

Average life expectancy for a Russian male is about 59

(IPS) MOSCOW -- A ban on consumption of beer in public places came into effect in Russia this month, but no one knows how effectively it can be enforced.

President Vladimir Putin ordered the ban following months of parliamentary debates. Supporters of the ban, coming shortly before World Health Day Apr. 7, argue it could help rising alcoholism and indiscipline, particularly among the young.

The new law bans consumption of beer in places like recreational parks, sports buildings, educational establishments, medical institutions and public transport. The fine for violation would be the equivalent of $3.50.

Legislation passed in August last year had banned advertisement of beer. But consumption of beer, considered by many to be a soft drink compared to vodka, continues to soar.

Russian breweries produced 6.58 billion liters of beer in 2004 compared to 5.87 billion liters the previous year, according to a recent study conducted by the Brewers Union and the marketing agency Business Analitika. The report estimates that about 30 percent of this is consumed publicly.

Russia currently has some 380 breweries. The domestic market is the fifth-largest in the world.

Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, beer has overtaken vodka as Russia's most popular drink. This increase followed intense marketing by brewers.

"Widespread anxiety about drunken, rowdy youth first sparked a legal clampdown on beer adverts," Duma (parliament) deputy Vladimir Medinsky told IPS. "Alcoholism among young people has doubled in recent years. It's very common now to watch Russia's older generation, even teenagers hang out on street corners drinking and smoking profusely."

Promoting alcoholic drinks does more than advertise a product, he said. "It's more of lifestyle advertising which our children pick up without knowing the consequences," Medinsky said. "The glamour that the drinking culture offers is very dangerous for today's youth and Russian society. The youth has become more and more engaged in all sorts of crimes and there is the need to maintain some kind of social order among them."

Some Russian parliamentarians say the new legislation is needed in the light of recent terrorist attacks and the heightened security measures to protect the public. The lawmakers also blame the popularity of beer for a rise in youth hooliganism.

"In the light of the toughening of civil order in connection with the recent terror attacks, it's my heartfelt belief that it will be implemented successfully to have a positive effect," Duma deputy Sergey Nikitukhin told IPS. "Some people will definitely raise critical questions about the difficulty in seeing the law through, but it's time to face up to the difficulties."

Health experts worried about the effects of alcoholism on the country's declining population have welcomed the ban.

Health and social development minister Mikhail Zurabov said at a news conference that drug addiction and excessive alcoholism are placing a severe strain on the country's economy and social fibre, and that "the government is extremely concerned" about this growing trend, especially among the youth.

A low birth rate, high mortality, alcoholism, smoking and violence have plunged post-Soviet Russia in a deep demographic crisis, he said. Since 1989, when the last Soviet census was held, the population of Russia has fallen by about four million to 143.3 million.

An early drinking culture is carried over into adult life and is unproductive both for the family and the economy, Zurabov said.

According to official figures, there are about five million alcoholics, and a fifth of the population regularly takes beer or other alcoholic drinks. Most addiction specialists say the real figure is closer to twice that.

About 40,000 people die from alcohol abuse every year, speeding up the decline in population. The average life expectancy for a Russian male is about 59, compared with 73.4 in the United States.

The overwhelming majority of Russians (80 percent) support the law banning beer drinking in public places and only 16 percent oppose it, according to one opinion poll.

The brewers inevitably see the situation differently. "We are all for stopping people from drinking beer on the streets," Vyacheslav Mamontov, head of the Russian Brewers' Union told IPS. "But all these measures will strike a blow at only those who don't have much money, those that can't afford to go to a cafe, where beer costs two or three times more than in the street kiosks."

Mamontov said the new restriction was "the latest repression" of the nation's burgeoning beer sector, which is expected to grow by 7 to 8 percent this year.

"It is impossible to instill a culture of indoor beer drinking in the population until the average restaurant bill falls from four percent of a Russian's average wage to one percent at the most, making it affordable for ordinary citizens," he said.

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Albion Monitor April 7, 2005 (

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