Vice Squad
Saturday, April 14, 2007
Are the Russians drinking more that they used to?

A couple of days ago, Matthew Kean cited Canberra that reported a big jump in Russian alcohol consumption from 5.4 liters of pure alcohol equivalent per person in 1990 to 15 liters per person currently. This per capita consumption seemed high, but not incredible. For comparison, Irland's 2006 consumption was 13.6 liters per person aged 15 and older. (The corresponding number for Luxembourg is 15.5 liters but that is certainly skewed by Luxembourg neighbors' cross-border shopping.) Also, the French used to drink about 20 liters per 15+ year-old 30 years ago and Spain wasn't far behind, although both have cut down their drinking since then.

Canberra also reported, however, that in 2005 consumption was "only" 9.7 liters per person. While the tripling of consumption since 1990 was hard to believe (well, thinking of it, Jim and I started visiting Russia in 1991, so perhaps there is a reasonable explanation), the 50+% jump since 2005 was completely incredible. Paraphrasing the US Postal Service, if it looks too strange to be true, it probably is. So, I went to the Russian website mentioned by Canberra (the site of the Russian consumer protection agency Rospoterbnadzor -- as the Russians would say, you can't pronounce the word without drinking a bottle of vodka first). Sure enough, while Russians do drink a lot (no surprise there) they are probably much steadier in their drinking habits than Canberra would have us believe. Rospotrebnadzor actually was careful to distinguish between "measured" consumption in 1990 and 2005 correctly reported by Canberra and the "rough estimate" of actual "current" per capita consumption of 15 liters. The latter included "dual use" liquids such as alcohol-based household chemicals and eau de colognes. There is no telling what the actual consumption was in 1990, although it certainly was much higher than 5.4 liters per person.

Interestingly, as reported by this Russian news website, the output of vodka in the first quarter of this year grew by 67% relative to the same period a year ago, and the output of wines increased four-fold. This remarkable growth in output (but not in consumption, I bet) was due to the problems that the Russian booze industry had a year ago when the Russian government began to require new excise stamps for alcohol, but did not provide those stamps to the producers.

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