Alcohol problems in Russia

Scott Jagow Nov 13, 2006

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

SCOTT JAGOW: For 400 years, alcohol sold in Russia was controlled by the government. That ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union, but the last couple weeks, there’s been a new push for state control. 17,000 Russians died of alcohol poisoning in the first nine months of this year.Julian Evans is a reporter in Moscow.

JULIAN EVANS: The government’s been up in arms about the statistic. The state-controlled media has been talking about the national tragedy of alcoholism and in fact the statistic is quite a lot down on last year. So that’s raised suspicions of why the government has suddenly seized on this figure and it kind of created this big media campaign about the problem of alcohol poisoning.

JAGOW: So why do you think the government has seized on this issue?

EVANS: There are various different conspiracy theories, but I guess the most likely is that they’re using it to make a push for state control of the alcohol sector. This campaign seems to be gaining more and more support and looks like it might even happen.

JAGOW: But if the state does take over production and sale again, how does that help solve the problem of alcohol poisoning?

EVANS: Well, I guess the theory is that the quality levels will be better controlled so there’ll be less dodgy vodka with a lot of impurities in it being sold. But the private alcohol industry says, look, you’re still going to have alcoholics, you’re still going to have people that are so poor they can’t afford vodka so they end up drinking lighter fluid or medical spirit or other things like that. So the problem is not just gonna go away, but of course it will generate quite a lot of money for the state.

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