The Russian parliament has moved to legally classify beer as alcohol for the first time, the Telegraph reported Feb. 23. It is currently classified as food.
Part of a new government campaign limiting advertising and night-time sales of other forms of alcohol, the new measure also limits beer sales near schools and caps container size at 0.33 liters (or about 11 fluid ounces).
“Normalizing the beer production market and classifying it as alcohol is totally the right thing to do and will boost the health of our population,” said Yevgeny Bryun, who is the chief specialist on alcohol and drug abuse at the ministry of health. “We have been talking about and have wanted such a measure for ages. I take my hat off to the parliament.”
The bill must be approved by the Kremlin before it would become law, Reuters reported Feb. 22.
Vodka remains vastly more popular than beer in Russia, but beer's low price, lack of regulation, and wide availability have helped its rate of consumption grow more than three-fold in the past 15 years. Russia is now one of the largest beer markets in the world, behind China and the U.S.
The Telegraph reported that, “many ordinary Russians regard beer as a soft drink. It is not uncommon to see men swigging a can of beer on their way to work or teenagers downing a swift lunchtime beer or two in the park.” According to the Kremlin, the average Russian drinks 32 pints of pure alcohol annually, or twice the maximum recommended by the World Health Organization.
There are about half a million alcohol-related deaths every year in Russia, officials said. President Dmitry Medvedev has called the country's drinking “a national disaster”.
Russia's high rate of alcohol consumption appeared to have “seriously dented population growth,” according to the Telegraph. The country's population shrank 6.4 million between 1991 and 2009, and the government statistics agency has projected that the population could drop from its current level of 142 million to 127 million by 2031.