A new law in Russia has closed a loophole that allowed anything with less than 10 percent alcohol to be considered a "foodstuff."
Though oil money is plentiful in post-Soviet Russia, little of that cash trickles down to most of the nation's nearly 142 million citizens. Russians have long been known for love of the drink, and with about 19 million Russians now living below the poverty line, struggles with drugs and alcohol are on the rise. According to a 2010 Kremlin Advisory Panel, alcoholism in Russia has gotten so bad that 500,000 people die annually from diseases, crimes, and accidents related to alcohol. For men, who tend to guzzle more than women, the average life expectancy in Russia is now a wildly premature 60.
The Russian government has tried lots of things to combat alcoholism over the years, from taking vodka off store shelves to, most recently, ramping up the price of vodka. Nothing has worked. Now President Dmitry Medvedev is taking his attention off liquor and turning it toward beer. By order of a new law, beer is now considered an alcoholic beverage in Russia. Sound crazy? Allow us to explain.
In the past 10 years, beer sales in Russia have gone way up while vodka sales have gone way down. The vodka price increase may have prompted this shift slightly, but more important was the unorthodox way beer was marketed in Russia. That is, until now, beer in Russia—and anything with less than 10 percent alcohol—was considered a foodstuff. And because it was called food, its sale wasn't regulated by the government. A news kiosk could sell beers willy-nilly, and people would drink them like they were drinking a Dr. Pepper.
Now that beer's not being regulated as food, starting in 2013, its sale will be restricted to certain vendors and hours. Also, advertising will no longer be allowed to contend that beer is healthier than any other alcoholic beverage. Though these new measures probably won't be enough to squelch out alcoholism in Russia entirely, they're definitely an important, albeit very late, start.
Alcoholism is a disease and, like all illnesses, it can't be legislated away. But slightly restricting the sale of beer can and almost certainly will cut down on unnecessary deaths. Plus, there's really no reason people should be able to buy booze whenever they damn well please, regardless of how you feel whenever you hear last call.
photo (cc) via Flickr user Bernt Rostad