Sunday, December 16, 2018

Russian Health Ministry Seeks to Compile More Accurate Alcohol Consumption Figures

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 16 – The Russian health ministry has announced plans to develop a program that will more accurately portray Russians’ consumption of alcohol by including the unregistered production of regular alcoholic drinks as well as the consumption of moonshine (samogon) and surrogates (

            If the ministry plan works out, it is certain to show that Russians are consuming far more alcohol per capita than Kremlin officials admit given that the latter use only the sales of registered alcohol, something that is a fraction of the total, as Western and Russian public health experts have long insisted.

             Since 2010, official Russian government statistics say, Russian consumption of alcohol has declined by 26 percent to 8.9 liters of pure alcohol per capita.  But most experts say that the decline has been less than that because many Russians have shifted to less expensive unregistered alcohol, moonshine, and surrogates.

            Indeed, some even suggest that Russian consumption of all forms of alcohol may have increased. If that is the case and if the ministry goes ahead with its plans to monitor all alcohol consumption, it may not be allowed to report figures that will call into question Russian propagandistic claims.

            As RBC points out, “Russia has never had a complex unified methodology of measuring the consumption of alcohol; and consequently, what the ministry is trying to do can only be welcomed.  Ministry officials admit that the figures they have released up to now are based on commercial sales and thus not an accurate reflection of real consumption.

But Vadim Drobiz, the director of the Moscow Center for Research on Federal and Regional Alcohol Markets, has his doubts about the ministry’s ability to monitor alcohol consumption in the ways that it promises because more money will be needed to monitory “the very large size of illegal production” of alcohol of various kinds.

Moreover, he points out, one can’t compare consumption in 2008 with that in 2018 because the structure of the population has changed: “Today, young people between 18 and 28 are only half as numerous as they were a decade ago.” This group drinks as much per capita as it ever did, but the total is smaller because the numbers in the cohort are.

According to Drobiz, the real per capita consumption of alcohol in Russia has remained more or less constant at the level of 12.5 liters a year. If he is right, then Moscow has completely failed to cut total consumption despite the claims that it routinely makes to the contrary. Other experts like Igor Kosaryev, head of the Union of Alcohol Producers, agree. 

He says that the government’s actions to cut consumption have done little except shift consumption away from officially registered and thus relatively safe alcohol to illegal production, samogon, and surrogates which are far more dangerous to public health. Consequently, the ministry’s program may have exactly the opposite effect it wants.

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