Russia's government may be better off fighting the staggering fall in population by reducing the death rate rather than giving incentives to new births. According to a medical study published in the Guardian today, almost half of all working-age men who die in Russia, die as a result of alcohol abuse. And this is not entirely due to vodka, as one might presume, but due to the consumption of eau de cologne, antiseptics, and medical tinctures.
David Leon, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and colleagues examined records and interviewed the families of 1,750 men who had died in Izhevsk from 2003-05. The men were compared with 1,750 who were still alive. They found that problem drinkers and those who drank alcohol not intended for consumption were six times more likely to have died young than those who did not have a drinking problem. The chances of an early death were particularly high for those who got their alcohol from eau de cologne and other unorthodox sources - they were nine times more likely to die.
The authors say that men impoverished after losing a job through drinking may be forced to resort to drinking household products containing pure alcohol. Among those who were still alive, 47% who drank such products were jobless compared with 13% who stuck to vodka and beer.
According to a study published last year, Russians over 15 consumed on average 15.2 litres of pure alcohol a year (roughly 4 gallons). Despite recent government crackdowns on alcohol factories producing liquor without following regulations, most recently involving the suspension of licenses from 320 such factories, the drinking trend has not seen a sharp decline for the past several years. Even worse, when new regulations regarding alcohol duties required repackaging new and existing liquor products came out, the result was a disappearance of vodka from the stores; alcohol poisonings jumped as the poorer people immediately switched to cheap cologne and anti-corrosion liquids.
According to the World Health Organization, Russia is rated as the worst alcoholic country in the world with 2.5 million registered alcoholics, and with alcoholism linked to 72% of murders and 42% of suicides.
These numbers are staggering even for those aware of the troubles in this area of society. The Russian government has been right to give large incentives to women giving birth to their second and third child to increase the very low birth rate, yet the problem of alcoholism, which has been termed a "national tragedy" has received attention yet seen little effort. The solution is extremely complex with any sort of a prohibition law being a very wrong path to follow. Shutting down too many vodka producers for not following regulation also carries similar consequences with a bigger threat for a shift to pure-alcohol consumption.