MOSCOW, Sept 11 (Reuters) - Russian President Dmitry Medvedvev on Friday gave his officials three months to enact tough restrictions to try and curb alcohol abuse.
Last month, Medvedev described alcoholism as a "national disaster", which undermines public health and hampers the economy, urging the public to unite in fighting against it.
Russia has one of the world’s highest per-capita rates of alcohol consumption, linked to life expectancy. According to official figures, just 40 percent of this year’s school leavers will reach the pension age of 55 for women and 60 for men.
Earlier attempts to introduce curbs on alcohol, including a major campaign by the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev launched in 1985, brought little practical results and undermined government popularity.
On Friday, Medvedev ordered Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to introduce new restrictions on advertising alcoholic drinks and to allow local authorities to ban the sale of alcohol in specific locations and at specific times of the day. Medvedev also proposed replacing fines with criminal punishment for those who sell spirits and beer to those under 18, who are banned from buying alcohol.
The proposals, which echo similar measures introduced during Gorbachev’s campaign, will be unpopular in a country where easy access to alcohol and public drinking in parks and streets are seen as traditional rights.
Medvedev also ordered the government to initiate new measures limiting the illegal production and sale of spirits.
Russian officials say about 30-50 percent of Russia’s vodka market is illegal and untaxed. Many officials say a state vodka monopoly would bring order to the market and make it easier to control.
The proposed measures will hardly affect importers of alcohol, whose share of the local market does not exceed three percent. Most imported wines and spirits are sold in legal shops, which will not be affected. (Writing by Oleg Shchedrov)