Saturday, April 28, 2018

Russians Buying Less Alcohol in Stores but Compensating with Moonshine and Surrogates

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 27 – The Russian health ministry is trumpeting the fact that sales of alcohol in Russian stores have fallen by 40 percent over the last 12 years, a trend that it says demonstrates that Russians are drinking almost half as much now as they were at that time (новости/1111779/rossiianie_stali_na_40_mienshie_pit_alkoghol_za_posliedniie_12_liet).

            But sociologists and those who track drinking in Russia say that there has been little or no decline in consumption of alcohol. Instead, Russians are making up for any cutback in their purchases of alcohol with moonshine or surrogates that typically are far more hazardous to their health than the store-bought kind (

            Vadim Drobiz, head of the Center for Research on Federal and Regional Alcohol Markets, says that “in fact there is not a single socio-economic reason for any reduction in the consumption of alcohol in Russia.” Instead, poverty is driving people away from purchasing alcohol in stores toward producing or buying moonshine or consuming surrogates.

            Those alternatives, he says, now form “almost half” of the entire market, a pattern that will remain or even increase as long as alcohol is so expensive relative to Russian incomes. At present, it costs Russians five to seven times as much worktime to purchase any unit of alcohol than it does for people in Western Europe.

            A representative of a firm which sells alcohol stills to the population says his company has seen an increase in orders in recent months.  People say that alcohol in the stores is too expensive, and they fear that much of that offered for sale is adulterated in some way. Given that, spending up to 30,000 rubles (500 US dollars) seems reasonable.

                And Aleksandr Romanov, another expert on alcohol production in Russia, says that he finds it “hard to believe” that Russians have cut back much in their consumption of alcohol but that he is certain that as long as Russians remain poor, they will continue to choose moonshine and surrogates rather than the officially approved brands.

                That choice has tragic consequences: moonshine and even more surrogates like perfumes and cleaning supplies often make people sick or even kill them, something that only adds to Russia’s demographic problems.  Consequently, what Russian officials are presenting as a triumph – the cutback in sales of alcohol – in fact is a tragedy.

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