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Russian Leader Set to Tackle Nation’s Drinking Problem

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Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, who calls alcoholism a “national calamity,” plans to work with the nation’s parliament this fall to tackle the country’s drinking problem by proposing an increase in taxes, stricter labeling laws, and restrictions on where alcohol can be sold, Time reported Aug. 23.

According to Russia’s National Institute of Health, every year Russians drink the equivalent of 4.8 gallons (18 liters) of pure rubbing alcohol on average. Thirty-eight percent of Russians ages 20 to 39 — and 55 percent of those ages 40 to 59 — suffer from alcoholism. An average of 30,000 people die of alcohol poisoning in Russia each year.

Boris Gryzlov, the speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, pointed out that Russians spend more money on alcohol than food. “The amount each citizen spends on alcohol each year is enough to buy a new car,” said Gryzlov.

Medvedev’s plans to battle Russia’s alcohol problem come more than 20 years after former president of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev tried tackling the issue by destroying vineyards and increasing the price of vodka. 

Critics of Medvedev’s proposed changes, such as Alexei Makarkin, the Center for Political Technologies’ deputy head, are concerned with how Russians will react.

“Every time they impose these restrictions, two things happen; people start brewing their own liquor, or they turn to cheaper substitutes. By that I mean cheap perfume, hair tonics, window cleaner, industrial alcohols. This is a deadly game,” said Makarkin.

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