Alcohol Deaths Falling as Quality of Booze Climbs

MTStreet vendors hawking vodka on the street on Komsomolskaya Ploshchad.
The death toll from alcohol poisoning dropped for the second consecutive year as more and more Russians eschew homemade spirits and industrial alcohol in favor of cheap, legal alcohol, the National Alcohol Association said.

Some 19,000 people died of alcohol poisoning between January and November last year, down from 28,000 in 2006 and 40,000 in 2005, association director Pavel Shapkin said Monday.

A rise in the number of alcohol poisoning deaths from 2000 to 2005 were a result of consumption of homemade alcohol -- known in Russian as samogon, which means self-distilled -- and perfume, aftershave products, cleaning liquids and various technical fluids, according to the NAA. Russians consume about 300 million liters of these liquids annually, Channel 5 television reported.

But a hike in excise duties for industrial alcohol products in 2006 has made often toxic moonshine more expensive and pushed drinkers toward safer options, such as cheap vodka, Shapkin said.

Senior government officials have pressed for a state alcohol monopoly in recent years, and some observers have noted that waves of media coverage of alcohol poisonings could be intended to pave the way for such a monopoly.

Many in the alcoholic beverage industry, however, believe a state alcohol monopoly would do little to address the problem of alcohol-related deaths.

There are about 2.5 million alcoholics in Russia according to the country's chief epidemiologist, Gennady Onishchenko. The average Russian consumers some 15 liters of pure alcohol per year, Onishchenko said, Komsomolskaya Pravda reported Monday.