Sunday, 14 March 2010

No booze after 9 for Russians

There won't be much chance of a late-night tipple if new anti-alcohol laws are passed banning the sale of off-license liquor after 9 pm.

Proposed new laws, which were debated by a government commission on Thursday, would mean drinks containing more than 15 per cent alcohol could only be sold in bars and restaurants after the cut-off time.

Different groups are lobbying for different prohibitions: the state's alcohol regulator has called for a ban from 9 pm to 11 am, while the ministry of economic development proposed an 11 pm - 8 am shutdown.

However, drinks manufacturers believe the plans will do little to ease Russia's hangover, saying it's more important to tackle counterfeit booze and change the drinking culture.

Sergei Velichko, head of the Khortitsa vodka manufacturer urged the authorities to promote higher quality spirits and crackdown on illicit "samogon" and counterfeit brands. He also urged changes to the tax system, Vedomosti reported.

Crystal vodka chief Sergei Zivenko argued that time limits will only make life difficult for consumers, without combating drunkenness.

At present different regions have their own restrictions on drink, and officials opted to look more closely at these before making a final decision.

Dmitry Dobrov, press spokesman for the Alcohol Producers' Union, pointed out that rules are inconsistent at the moment.

"Restrictions are already in place in more than 70 regions of the country and sometimes in one of them vodka is flowing like water, while in the next one all the shops are closed," he told

And deputy prime minister Viktor Zubkov, who heads the commission, said that regional restrictions should be studied more closely.

"Every one of them has their own specifics," he said. "It's easier to see on the spot. But overall they report that the positive effect from such measures is undeniable."

The move is part of the government's plans to reduce alcohol consumption by 55 per cent by 2020 - prompted by the fact that Russians drink an average of 18 litres of pure alcohol per person every year, leading to almost 100,000 alcohol-related deaths a year, according to RIA Novosti.

"Drinking is a serious problem for us. High levels of male mortality are, undoubtedly, a consequence of alcohol abuse. Demographers do not doubt it. There are other countries where life expectancy is also around 60, but there it is due to high infant mortality. Here it is mostly grown men that die," Anatoly Vishnevsky, Director of Demographics Institute of High School of Economics told Forbes Russia.

Early steps included setting a minimum price of 89 roubles ($3) for a half-litre of vodka, though a state monopoly on spirits was dismissed. Other plans include criminal liability for breaking production and distribution rules, cracking down on advertising and introducing a direct link between the price and strength of drinks.

Other countries have also wrestled with similar problems: in Finland a state monopoly restricts spirit sales to afternoons in a single chain of stores. However, many Finns opt to take the short trip to Estonia and stock up on cheap, unlimited booze.

In the UK plans have been proposed to ban happy hours and cut-price offers in bars and pubs to cut down on so-called "binge drinking" - but long-standing limits on pub opening hours were abolished several years ago.

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