Rus­sia works to abol­ish boot­leg vodka hang­over

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH -

KUCHKI:

In a snowy field out­side Moscow, an aban­doned barn con­ceals an il­licit vodka dis­tillery that pro­duces thou­sands of bot­tles of Rus­sia’s na­tional drink for the black mar­ket. In a re­cent raid, po­lice seized more than 100,000 half-liter vodka bot­tles with coun­ter­feit la­bels and tax stamps from the barn in the vil­lage of Kuchki.

Sur­ro­gate al­co­hol, a cheaper al­ter­na­tive to store-bought spir­its, ac­counts for many deaths in Rus­sia ev­ery year and is com­ing un­der grow­ing scru­tiny in a coun­try with one of the high­est liquor con­sump­tion rates in the world. This week at least 71 peo­ple died in the Siberian city of Irkutsk af­ter drink­ing bath essence con­tain­ing toxic methanol in a bid to get merry on the cheap. The bot­tles dis­cov­ered in Kuchki cost un­der $2 (two euros) each-three times less than vodka sold in shops. “We don’t know what they make this vodka with,” said Alexan­der Ku­likov, spokesman for Rus­sia’s al­co­hol reg­u­la­tor. The equip­ment at the barn looked clean, but Ku­likov re­calls a case in which vodka-mak­ers at an­other il­le­gal fa­cil­ity were work­ing “with mud up to their knees”. Af­ter ban­ning the sale of spir­its at night and hik­ing al­co­hol taxes, au­thor­i­ties have started crack­ing down on boot­leg­gers in a bid to curb the dam­age wreaked by il­le­gally-pro­duced booze. Of­fi­cials say they have dis­man­tled more than 170 workshops, seiz­ing over 37 mil­lion liters since Oc­to­ber 2015.

Shrink­ing black mar­ket

Au­thor­i­ties are also hop­ing the crack­down will help ad­dress the prob­lem of un­paid taxes by il­le­gal al­co­hol pro­duc­ers, as low oil prices have hit Rus­sia’s cof­fers. A new law came into force in July re­quir­ing busi­ness own­ers who sell al­co­hol to join an elec­tronic reg­istry that tracks each bot­tle from pro­duc­tion to sale, an ini­tia­tive meant to pre­vent sur­ro­gate booze from mak­ing its way onto the shelves.

This has seen le­gal vodka sales bounce back af­ter years of stag­na­tion, hint­ing that the black mar­ket is shrink­ing. Vadim Dro­biz, a re­searcher who stud­ies al­co­hol mar­kets, says the black mar­ket share in hard liquor sales dropped to 50 per­cent this year af­ter stand­ing at 65 per­cent in 2015. But as Rus­sia strug­gles to pull it­self out of a re­ces­sion that has bat­tered the cur­rency and sig­nif­i­cantly di­min­ished peo­ple’s pur­chas­ing power, it seems un­likely the black mar­ket will dis­ap­pear al­to­gether. Ac­cord­ing to Dro­biz, up to 25 mil­lion Rus­sians do not earn enough to pur­chase liquor at of­fi­cial sell­ing points. Hop­ing to save a few rubles, the poor­est of­ten turn to cos­met­ics and house­hold prod­ucts con­tain­ing al­co­hol, a fac­tor blamed for a large num­ber of drink-re­lated deaths.

In late 2014, when the ru­ble lost half its value off the back of West­ern sanc­tions and low oil prices, au­thor­i­ties dropped the price of vodka af­ter Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin ex­pressed con­cern that soar­ing prices could boost con­sump­tion of il­le­gal booze. Through­out his­tory, Rus­sian lead­ers have had to act with cau­tion when it comes to reg­u­lat­ing al­co­hol. On the eve of World War I, tsar Ni­cholas II or­dered a crack­down that fu­elled moon­shine pro­duc­tion and de­mor­al­ized his troops. And in the 1980s, a so­bri­ety cam­paign spear­headed by Soviet leader Mikhail Gor­bachev drove his pop­u­lar­ity down.

Hawthorn liqueur

The num­ber of al­co­hol-re­lated deaths has fallen in re­cent years, ac­cord­ing to the state sta­tis­tics agency, with ex­perts at­tribut­ing this to mea­sures im­ple­mented to curb the sale of il­le­gal spir­its. “Al­co­hol abuse is down,” said Yevgeny Bryun, who heads Moscow’s tox­i­col­ogy cen­tre, stress­ing that the num­ber of poi­son­ing cases had dropped 30 per­cent in the past three years. “But we need to go fur­ther,” he said, cit­ing the need to stop Rus­sians from drink­ing phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal prod­ucts. — AFP

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