Oddly Enough

Say no to vodka, president tells Russians

A Moscow shop assistant arranges bottles of vodka in a state-run liquor store, July 1, 1997. REUTERS/Alexander Natruskin

MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Dmitry Medvedev has told Russians they must kick the alcohol habit.

“We drink more now than in the 1990s, although those were difficult times,” the ITAR-Tass news agency quoted Medvedev as saying on Tuesday.

Health Minister Tatyana Golikova has been ordered to devise an anti-alcohol strategy. “We need to prepare a corresponding programme and take appropriate measures,” Medvedev said.

A report by The Lancet medical journal last week said alcohol-related diseases caused around half of all deaths of Russians between the ages of 15 and 54.

Vodka is enshrined in Russian culture despite efforts by previous leaders to break the macho drinking culture.

A 1986 anti-alcohol campaign by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev led to a boom in illegal production of low-quality alcohol, and Russians learned to drink perfumes and other household liquids made from alcohol.

But Russia’s falling population is worrying its leaders.

A United Nations report in April said poor diet, smoking and heavy drinking led to a high rate of heart disease and, alongside emigration and violent deaths, could cause Russia’s population to fall to 131 million by 2025 from 142 million now.

The Russian government is also trying to wean Russians off gambling. From Wednesday, all gambling halls and casinos will shut and gaming will be allowed only in Las Vegas-style zones in four rarely visited regions of the country.

Reporting by James Kilner; editing by Robert Woodward