Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Russians are Drinking Ever More Moonshine at Great Risk to Their Health, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 8 – Moscow has trumpeted a decline in sales of alcohol as an indication that its policies are making Russians healthier and improving life expectancies, but in fact, the only sales that have dropped are for increasingly expensive officially-registered alcoholic beverages. Sales of moonshine and even more dangerous surrogates have increased.

            That is the disturbing message from the expert community, according to an article by Anatoly Komrakov in today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta, who says Russian experts believe that if the authorities maintain their current approach, 40 percent of all alcohol consumption will be from unregulated sources in 2019 (

            The Russian statistical agency has announced with obvious pride that alcohol sales in Russia, despite an economic situation that might have been expected to drive them up, have fallen for the second year in a row, the result, Rosstat says, of higher taxes and rising prices and one that has improved public health.

            But in fact, alcohol purchases and consumption have not fallen but risen, the result of decisions by Russians to produce their own moonshine, purchase “samogon” from others, or use surrogates like perfumes and mouthwashes that contain alcohol to satisfy their needs for escape from reality.

            One measure of this that the authorities do keep track of involves sales of samogon apparatuses.  Now widely advertised online, these increased by 300 to 400 percent during 2014 alone, as Russians chose to produce alcoholic beverages for themselves or to make money by producing and selling them to others.

            Another measure that indicates overall alcohol consumption among Russians is rising rather than falling is that “in the regions of Russia, mortality from home-brew alcohol is growing.” In 2015, the rate of such deaths rose by 32 percent in 2015 from the year before; and in Krasnodar kray by 27 percent year to year.

            Vadim Drobiz, the director of the Moscow Center for Research on Federal and Regional Alcohol Markets, says that to date, moonshine is mostly consumed by “marginal and creative people” but that if the government continues its current policies, such forms of alcohol will constitute “no less than 40 percent” of the country’s alcohol sales three years from now.

            Production of samogon for personal use is legal in Russia now, although the sale of such products is now. At present, he estimates, about 200 million liters of moonshine are now being produced each year, much of it by people who can’t afford to purchase registered alcohol at current prices.

            The Russian authorities have closed many places where officially registered alcohol can be sold, but for each of the ones closed, three “illegal” ones emerge, most often in rural areas.  A few years ago, alcohol could be sold in about 300,000 places; now, it can be sold only in about 210,000.  Illegal sellers are more than making up the difference, Drobiz says.

            He predicts that Russians will produce “up to 800 million liters” of moonshine annually by 2019, four times as much as now; and a figure that will overwhelm officially registered alcohol in many places.  And in addition, Russians are likely to be consuming more surrogates as well. 

            The immediate health consequences and the longer term impact of that trend on demography are enormous and undercut Moscow’s efforts to improve public health and extend life expectancy.

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