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Contradicting Alcohol Stereotypes, A More Sober Russia Emerges

Russians leading healthier lives and living longer

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A tub filled with Alcohol and Ice
People think Russians drink only vodka, but it just isn't true anymore. Pixabay

Alcohol consumption by Russians has dropped by half over the past decade and now sits at levels that are lower than those of Western countries such as France and Germany, a recent study shows.

The World Health Organization study found that between 2003 and 2016, Russian alcohol use fell by 43%.

Russia “provides a powerful example of success for other countries to reduce the enormous health and economic burdens stemming from alcohol,” the report said.

The findings are proof that the enduring stereotypes of Russia as a vodka-swilling nation are increasingly out of touch, Russian alcohol consumers say.

“People come to the bar not to get drunk, but to rest, relax, and enjoy whatever drink it is that they prefer,” said Alexander Cherkasov, manager of Pasternak Bar, one of a wave of “craft beer” establishments that have swept Moscow and other Russian cities in recent years.

alcohol
A glass of beer is pictured in a craft beer bar in Kazan, Russia, June 19, 2017. REUTERS/ VOA

“People think Russians drink only vodka, but it just isn’t true anymore,” Cherkasov added.

Pouring through history

Russian drinking — and state efforts to curb it — is an old story in Russian history, with vodka, considered Russia’s national drink, at the center of events.

According to legend, Vladimir the Great chose Christianity over Islam because of its lax approach to liquor.

“Drinking is the joy of Russia,” the Grand Prince allegedly said. “We cannot do without it.”

In the 1980s, then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev tried to curb his country’s fondness for drinking, blaming rampant alcoholism for the Soviet Union’s poor economic performance. Strict dry laws did reduce alcohol consumption, but people joke today that the laws eventually took the Soviet Union with them.

In the 1990s, President Boris Yeltsin’s legendary thirst — and public gaffes — were a source of national shame. They also reflected a grim post-Soviet reality: Alcohol-related deaths were spiking nationwide amid turbulent political and economic change.

In contrast, President Vladimir Putin has set a more sober tone — preferring sporty photo-ops and rarely venturing for a drink in public.

Analysts say that beyond Putin’s carefully managed image, he has introduced smart policies aimed at taming Russian alcohol thirst.

Russian President making a toast
Russian President Boris Yeltsin makes a toast during a meeting with graduating cadets of Russian military schools. Yeltsin discussed the situation in Yugoslavia with his Defence minister on Monday and Russia sent more planeloads of equipment and supplies for its peacekeepers in Kosovo. (From the Archives). VOA

“The fact is, regulation works,” said Evgeny Yakovlev, a leading authority on anti-alcohol policy at Moscow-based New Economic School. “And if you want to reduce alcohol consumption, you can do it,” he added, pointing to Putin’s embrace of liquor taxes, restricted sales hours, and an outright ban on alcohol advertising as examples.

Different tastes for younger drinkers

Changing tastes also explain the shift in alcohol consumption, with younger Russians, in particular, choosing to drink differently than their elders.

“I don’t really enjoy getting drunk, so that’s why I prefer beer,” said Alsubek, who works at a Moscow coffee shop and says he stopped drinking vodka entirely. “I just don’t feel good the next day.”

Polina, 21, a student from St. Petersburg, said: “It’s fashionable these days to go to a bar where they have a craft beer or cider, but we do it really to talk more than drink.”

An outcome of reduced drinking is that Russians are leading healthier lives and living longer. The WHO report cited Russian men for gains in average life expectancy — now at 68 years compared to 57 in the early 1990s.

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The report also notes that anti-tobacco laws introduced in 2013 are playing a role.

“I’ve noticed that young people are drinking less and playing sports more,” said Sergey Kovalerov, a construction engineer with two grown children. “I don’t drink as much as I used to, either, but I won’t say no to a drink at parties or on the holidays. That’s just normal.” (VOA)

Next Story

Light Alcohol Consumption Might Also Increase Cancer Risk: Study

The researchers found an almost linear association between cancer risk and alcohol consumption

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Alcohol
A light level of Alcohol Consumption at 10-drink-year point, for example, one drink per day for 10 years or two drinks per day for five years would increase cancer risk by five per cent, the findings showed. Pixabay

If you thought one-two drinks a day would not do any harm, think again. Researchers in Japan have found that even light Alcohol consumption might increase the cancer risk.

In the study published in the journal Cancer, the overall cancer risk appeared to be the lowest at zero alcohol consumption. The elevated risk appeared to be explained by alcohol-related cancer risk across relatively common sites, including the colorectum, stomach, breast, prostate and esophagus.

“In Japan, the primary cause of death is cancer,” said one of the researchers Masayoshi Zaitsu from The University of Tokyo. “Given the current burden of overall cancer incidence, we should further encourage promoting public education about alcohol-related cancer risk,” Zaitsu said.

The team examined clinical data on 63,232 patients with cancer and 63,232 controls matched for sex, age, hospital admission date, and admitting hospital. The data was gathered from 33 general hospitals in Japan.

All participants reported their average daily amount of standardised alcohol units and the duration of drinking.

One standardised drink containing 23 grams of ethanol was equivalent to one 180-ml cup of Japanese sake, one 500-ml bottle of beer, one 180-ml glass of wine, or one 60-ml cup of whiskey.

Alcohol
If you thought one-two drinks a day would not do any harm, think again. Researchers in Japan have found that even light Alcohol consumption might increase the cancer risk. Pixabay

The researchers found an almost linear association between cancer risk and alcohol consumption.

A light level of drinking at 10-drink-year point, for example, one drink per day for 10 years or two drinks per day for five years would increase cancer risk by five per cent, the findings showed.

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Those who drank two or fewer drinks a day had an elevated cancer risk regardless of how long they had consumed alcohol. Also, analyses classified by sex, drinking/smoking behaviours and occupational class mostly showed the same patterns. (IANS)