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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Study: Decline in Alcohol Consumption Levelling Off

As the government prepares to introduce new rules restricting the sale of hard liquor, a new study shows that a fall in alcohol consumption over the last several years has leveled off, although drinking is still well below a post-Soviet peak in 1993.

The number of drinkers is declining, the study shows, but among those who do drink, adult males are still imbibing more than they did before 1992, with ill consequences for their health. And while the poor are spending less on drink, the rich are spending more, as income differentials continue to widen in Russian society.

The findings, based on results of a Russian national health survey in October 1996, were presented Tuesday in Moscow.

The research found that the average adult Russian male consumes 41 grams -- just under one shot of vodka -- per day, while women downed 7.6 grams per day. That adds up to 13.6 liters of alcohol a year for men against a mere 1.5 liters a year for women.

Consumption for typical males was up slightly from the October 1995 figure of 40 grams, but was far below the mid-1993 total of nearly 60 grams a day. In 1992 mean daily intake for men was 29 grams.

Alcohol consumption by women fell from 10.3 grams in 1995.

Experts could point to no single reason for the overall decline the last several years but said it was linked to stabilization of society and the economy since cheap alcohol became widely available in 1993. Nevertheless, the still high levels of alcohol consumption among Russian men contribute to their unusually high mortality rate, specialists say.

"Cardiovascular illness is a major killer in Russia and alcohol is one of the causes, along with smoking and obesity," said Barry Popkin, an American nutrition specialist from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Drink is also a factor in road and work-related accidents, two other leading killers, he said.

UNC has coordinated the Russia Longitudinal Monitoring Survey, a series of reports on health, in cooperation with several Russian institutes since 1992.

The percentage of men who drink, in whatever quantity, has dropped from nearly 85 percent of the adult male population in 1992 to about 71 percent in 1996. The corresponding figure for women has dropped from about 60 percent in 1992 to just under 44 percent last year.

Russians took to the bottle after 1992 for a number of reasons, Popkin said. While stress induced by economic difficulties and other rapid changes no doubt partly explain the desire to escape to the comforts of liquor, market forces that made cheap booze widely available at kiosks were perhaps more important, he said.

A presidential decree announced last week that will ban the sale of alcoholic drinks stronger than 12 percent -- excluding most wines and beers -- from kiosks is aimed at restricting the booming market in bootleg liquor and boosting the government's tax revenues from alcohol sales.

But whether this new measure will lessen alcohol consumption "depends on how strictly it is enforced and how it affects the price," Popkin said.

The survey results indicate that the richest 20 percent of the population are spending more on alcohol than previously, while the poorest 60 percent are spending less.