Monday, 4 April 2011

Russians continue drinking and smoking themselves to extinction

Russia´s population declined by nearly 3.4 million over the past decade, according to new census figures published last week. An aging and decreasing population will sap much needed economic growth . The populated had 2010 fallen to 142.9 million, from 145.2 million in 2002, when the previous census was taken, and from 146.3 million in 2001, according to Russia’s Federal Statistics Service. Russia is expected to lose an estimated one million workers every year until 2017.

Heavy drinking and smoking are the main reasons for the population decline in Russia.
Russian president Dmitry Medvedev has called alcoholism a "national disaster". He and other Russian leaders have tried to tried to get Russians to drink less, but so far their success has been less than impressive.

Public Radio International reports:

At a popular Italian restaurant near Pushkin Square in Moscow, men and women talk business over margarita pizzas, fettuccine and minestrone soup. It could be a typical business lunch in most any city, except for the beverage that sits chilled on most tables -- a bottle of vodka.

Hard alcohol at lunch is de rigueur in Russia, according to Oxana Egorova, a businesswoman. She said vodka gets your blood flowing better.

In fact, the country is one of the world's largest consumers of alcohol per capita. The average Russian drinks more than twice the maximum amount considered healthy by the World Health Organization. So why do Russians drink so much? Experts say it's a number of factors, including the lack of adequate social services, employment opportunities and depression, among other things. Oxana Egorova said life is difficult in Russia. "That's why they're drinking. It's definitely seen everywhere, everyday."

And Russians do drink -- in public -- at any time of the day. Men and women, young and old, buy tiny bottles of hard alcohol at kiosks on their way to work; women push baby carriages with one hand while holding a liter can of beer in the other, and teenagers sit in parks during the middle of the day, drinking vodka straight out of the bottle.

Nothing has changed since this report was broadcast in 2008:

Unlike drinking patterns prevalent in, say, Mediterranean regions—where wine is regarded as an elixir for enhancing conversation over meals and other social gatherings, and where public drunkenness carries an embarrassing stigma—mind-numbing, stupefying binge drinking of hard spirits is an accepted norm in Russia and greatly increases the danger of fatal injury through falls, traffic accidents, violent confrontations, homicide, suicide, and so on. Further, extreme binge drinking (especially of hard spirits) is associated with stress on the cardiovascular system and heightened risk of CVD mortality.

How many Russians are actually drinkers, and how heavily do they actually drink? Officially, Russia classifies some 7 million out of roughly 120 million persons over 15 years of age, or roughly 6 percent of its adult population, as heavy drinkers. But the numbers are surely higher than this. According to data compiled by the World Health Organization,
as of 2003 Russia was Europe’s heaviest per capita spirits consumer; its reported hard liquor consumption was over four times as high as Portugal’s, three times that of Germany or Spain, and over two and a half times higher than that of France.

Yet even these numbers may substantially understate hard spirit use in Russia, since the WHO figures follow only the retail sale of hard liquor. But samogon—home-brew, or “moonshine”—is, according to some Russian researchers, a huge component of the country’s overall intake. Professor Alexander Nemstov, perhaps Russia’s leading specialist in this area, argues that Russia’s adult population—women as well as men—puts down the equivalent of a bottle of vodka per week.
From the epidemiological standpoint, local-level studies have offered fairly chilling proof that alcohol is a direct factor in premature mortality. One forensic investigation of blood alcohol content by a medical examiner’s office in a city in the Urals, for example, indicated that over 40 percent of the younger male decedents evaluated had probably been alcohol-impaired or severely intoxicated at the time of death—including one quarter of the deaths from heart disease and over half of those from accidents or injuries. But medical and epidemiological studies have also demonstrated that, in addition to its many deaths from consumption of ordinary alcohol, Russia also suffers a grisly toll from alcohol poisoning, as the country’s drinkers, in their desperate quest for intoxication, down not only sometimes severely impure samogon, but also perfumes, alcohol-based medicines, cleaning solutions, and other deadly liquids. Death rates from such alcohol poisoning appear to be at least one hundred times higher in Russia than the United States—this despite the fact that the retail price in Russia today is lower for a liter of vodka than a liter of milk.
Read the entire World Affairs Journal article here.

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