January 14, 2010 / 6:03 PM / 10 years ago

Putin calls time on Russians' alcohol habit

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, alarmed by Russians’ love affair with alcohol, gave the go-ahead on Thursday for a campaign to cut consumption by more than half in the next 10 years.

An employee looks at bottles of Damskaya Vodka or "Ladies" vodka in the office in St. Petersburg March 14, 2008. REUTERS/Alexander Demianchuk

Putin approved a series of government steps to tackle the “national threat” of Russia’s alcohol addiction including restrictions on alcohol sales and production, higher taxation and curbs on advertising, his website said.

Russians’ health must be put ahead of “the interests of participants of the alcohol market,” the strategy document said. It said 23,000 people die each year from alcohol poisoning and over 75,000 people from alcohol-related diseases.

“Alcohol abuse is the main reason for the rapid accumulation of demographic and social problems in Russia since the mid 1960s,” the document said.

It aims to cut consumption by 15 percent by 2012 and by 55 percent by 2020 but does not mention state control of alcohol sales or production as demanded by anti-alcohol campaigners.

In August, President Dmitry Medvedev ordered tough measures to curb alcohol abuse, saying he was shocked by official consumption data.

Since then, Russia has moved to triple the excise duty on beer, introduced minimum prices for vodka and is considering drastic limits on where and when beer can be sold, such as banning the sale on street side kiosks.

In 1985, the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev declared a war on the age-old Russian vice, ordering dramatic cuts in the production of wines and spirits and introducing strict controls on public consumption of alcohol.

The campaign caused a surge in the illegal production of low-quality home-brewed booze and the curbs dealt a blow to the popularity of Gorbachev, the author of the liberal Soviet reform known as Perestroika.

Russians drink 18 liters of alcohol per person per year, a level Putin’s strategy document blames on a lack of coherent state regulation. It says Russia had the lowest alcohol consumption in Europe just before the Bolshevik revolution in 1917.

Writing by Gleb Bryanski; editing by Andrew Dobbie

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