Staunton, May 31 – Two factors have come together to push up the percentage of Russians consuming alcohol, Maksim Chernigorvsky of the Club of Alcohol Market Professionals says, the falling standard of living which is driving more Russians to drink and shifts in the ways that Moscow measures how much alcohol they are consuming.
According to the latest VTsIOM poll, the percentage of Russians who say they are drinking alcoholic beverages has risen seven percent over the last year and now stands at 67 percent, a reversal of the declines that that survey agency and others had been reporting and that Russian officials had been celebrating (wciom.ru/index.php?id=236&uid=9713).
Officials have improved data collection, especially on beer, Chernigovsky tells Aleksandr Mavromatis of the MBK news agency. But the bigger reason for the increase in consumption is to be found in the economic crisis. As incomes have fallen, Russians have turned to drink (mbk-news.appspot.com/suzhet/rossiyane-stali-bolshe-pit/).
The structure of Russian alcohol consumption has not changed markedly in the last few years, the expert says. The market shares of vodka, beer, and other drinks remains about what it has been, following the decline in vodka consumption over the previous decade. But two things have changed: government policies and ease of access to illegal unregistered alcohol.
The Russian government has raised taxes on beer by 700 percent over the last decade, pushing down consumption of that alternative to vodka from 80 liters per capita per year to 55. That increase in taxes on beer has not been paralleled by a rise in taxes on alcohol, and so price considerations have kept vodka consumption higher than it otherwise would be.
At the same time, illegal unregistered alcohol has become far more accessible thanks to the Internet. Indeed, Chernigovsky says, there has been “a complete Bacchanalia” among Russians as a result. There are now “more than 3,000 sites” offering illegal alcohol, and as taxes and prices go up on registered kinds, ever more people are turning to them.
According to the marketing specialist, “the growth in the alcoholization of Rusisans is occurring as a result of the producers” of such alcohol and alcohol surrogates. That is something the government has tried to combat both to save money and to protect public health, but its efforts have been far from sufficient, he says.
To give but one example, Vladimir Putin has signaled that he would like to see Russians drink more wine, rather than vodka. But domestic producers now can satisfy only 40 percent of the wine Russians are already buying. That is because the country has not yet come back from Mikhail Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign which saw large numbers of vineyards destroyed.