New Rules Up Sales of Breathalizers

Electronics giant Eldorado said Friday that sales of devices enabling users to test their blood's alcohol content surged 28-fold after the government eased rules on drinking for drivers.

Shoppers bought 20,000 of the testers over the past week, up from 700 a week in May, the Moscow-based company said in an e-mailed statement.

The devices give a readout indicating the amount of alcohol in the blood based on an exhalation of breath.

"We knew about the liberalization and prepared for it," Alexei Serdyuchenko, head of purchasing at Eldorado, said in the statement.

The retailer studied the market for alcohol testers and stocked up on the devices, he said.

The driving rules are being loosened less than two months after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called alcoholism and smoking a "disaster" for the country.

More than two-fifths of deaths among working-age Russian men stem from excessive drinking of beer and wine and use of products including colognes as cheaper alcohol sources, medical journal The Lancet has reported.

As of July 1, Russian drivers were free to drink alcoholic beverages about equal to a glass of wine, a half-liter bottle of beer or 50 grams of vodka for a man weighing about 80 kilograms, Eldorado spokesman Anton Panteleyev said.

By changing the rules the government most likely aimed to bring them into line with international standards "rather than liberalize them," said Viktor Dima, an analyst at Renaissance Capital.

"It's harsher penalties that are making people more responsible," he added.

Eldorado is selling five types of testers at prices starting from 499 rubles ($21.20) and plans to introduce four more models.

Russia's spirits market, the world's third-largest after those of the United States and China, swelled to $18.2 billion last year, according to research company Euromonitor International.