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Cablegate: Russia: The Harsh Impact of Demon Vodka

VZCZCXRO0242
RR RUEHHM RUEHLN RUEHMA RUEHPB RUEHPOD
DE RUEHMO #1434/01 0891417
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 301417Z MAR 07
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8828
INFO RUEAUSA/DEPT OF HHS WASHDC
RUEHRC/USDA FAS WASHDC 4700
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC
RUEHYG/AMCONSUL YEKATERINBURG 2336
RUEHVK/AMCONSUL VLADIVOSTOK 2020
RUEHZN/EST COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 MOSCOW 001434

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR OES/IHA AND EUR/RUS
USAID FOR GH, E&E
HHS FOR OGHA
USDA FOR FAS/OCRA FLEMING, THOMAS OGA CHAUDHRY VELTHIUS
COMMERCE FOR ITA/EDWARDS
STATE PASS USTR FOR MOLNAR, KLEIN, DWOSKIN AND OWEN
BERLIN ALSO FOR LABOR COUNSELOR HAGEN

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: TBIO EAGR ETRD SOCI RS
SUBJECT: RUSSIA: THE HARSH IMPACT OF DEMON VODKA

REFS: A. 06 Moscow 9824
B. 06 Moscow 12348
C. Moscow 563

MOSCOW 00001434 001.2 OF 003


THIS CABLE IS SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED. PLEASE PROTECT
ACCORDINGLY.

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Leading European and Russian addiction and
demographics experts met recently in Moscow to discuss alcohol
consumption and policy in Russia. Binge drinking causes an
estimated three percent drag on GDP and leads to about half a
million premature deaths every year. The lack of a national center
to study alcohol addiction hinders the collection of solid data that
could guide politicians, who battle corruption within law
enforcement circles and hard lobbying by domestic alcohol producers.
The brief presence of two senior Kremlin policy-makers at the
conference suggests that the Russian Government recognizes that
widespread alcohol abuse is fueling the overall demographic crisis
by contributing to Russia's low life expectancy and high preventable
mortality among working-age men. Despite the attention to the
issue, however, we do not expect any major policy initiatives in the
near term, given upcoming Duma and Presidential elections, and the
lingering bitter memories from Gorbachev's attempts to regulate
alcohol consumption in the mid-80s. END SUMMARY.

2. (U) Leading addiction and demographics experts from Russia and
Europe held a two-day conference in Moscow March 1-2 to discuss
Russian drinking habits and ways of crafting an effective alcohol
policy. The conference, entitled "Developing an Effective Alcohol
Policy for Russia: Worldwide Experience and the Russian Realities,"
attracted leading Russian and international demographics and
addiction experts from Great Britain, and from Norway, Sweden, and
Finland (cold, northern countries with a historical legacy of heavy
hard alcohol consumption similar to Russia's).

Hard Drinking, Hard Life
------------------------

3. (U) Nikolay Gerasimenko, Deputy Head of the Duma Health
Committee, cited several grim estimates of alcohol consumption in
Russia, though he cautioned that data collection was poor in this
area. Annual per capita alcohol consumption in Russia is estimated
at 14-15 liters per year (equal to 180 bottles of vodka for every
adult Russian male). Hard alcohol constitutes 60-75 percent of all
consumed alcohol, one of the highest percentages in the world.
(Note: According to the WHO, Russia ranks 19th worldwide in per
capita consumption of alcohol, but almost all of the countries
ranked higher than Russia are predominantly beer or wine-drinking.
Russia is ranked third worldwide in per capita consumption of
spirits after Moldova and Reunion. END NOTE) More than two million
people are officially registered as alcoholics, and some 80 percent
of young people aged 11-24 drink regularly. Alcohol has also become
steadily more affordable in the past 15 years. A bottle of vodka
now costs around three dollars and is roughly equal to the price of
three bottles of beer. The estimated economic loss from heavy
alcohol consumption is 500-700 billion rubles per year, or three
percent of GDP. The situation is most critical in small towns,
where poor economic conditions and high unemployment drive many men
to drink.

Alcohol-Related Deaths Drive the Demographic Crisis
--------------------------------------------- ------

4. (U) Vladimir Shkolnikov, a well-known Russian demographer now
working at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in
Rostok, Germany, and Aleksandr Nemtsov, the pioneer of Russian
alcohol epidemiology research from the Moscow Institute of
Psychiatry, presented data showing the major contribution of alcohol
to overall mortality. Nemtsov attributes 22 percent of male
mortality and 15 percent of female mortality to alcohol consumption.
According to Nemtsov's estimates, 365,000 men and 128,000 women,
almost 500,000 total, died every year from the consequences of
alcohol consumption in the years 1990 to 2001. Shkolnikov
attributes 82,000 deaths a year to the direct effects of alcohol
consumption, including violent deaths, suicides, traffic accidents,
and traumas. These deaths are supplemented by deaths from
cardiovascular diseases, cirrhosis of the liver, and
gastro-intestinal diseases, in all of which alcohol is a

MOSCOW 00001434 002.2 OF 003


contributing factor.

Alcohol Consumption Needs Better Study
--------------------------------------

5. (U) Many participants emphasized the need to collect solid data
to characterize Russia's alcohol problem. The renowned Russian
demographer, Anatoliy Vishnevskiy, Director of the newly established
Institute of Demography at the Higher School of Economics, lamented
that there is no national research center on alcoholism and alcohol
abuse. Such a center could collect basic data and more sharply
define the level of drinking and the resulting health-related
consequences and economic losses, to better guide policy-makers.

Battling Illegal Sales and Alcohol Surrogates
---------------------------------------------

6. (U) Duma Deputy Yevgeniy Roizman, well-known for his anti-drug
campaign in Yekaterinburg, spoke about his experiences fighting
illegal alcohol sales. He claimed that Yekaterinburg was losing
2,000 people annually due to acute alcohol poisonings. He noted
that several local investigations revealed that the local police
were either involved in unregulated sales, or offered protection to
sellers of illegal product. Roizman also complained of the
resistance he has faced in introducing legislation to criminalize
sales of spirits to minors, noting that many legislators have
commercial interests in vodka ventures or alcohol production plants.


7. (U) Roizman also noted that inexpensive medicines containing
alcohol constitute a significant portion of the alcohol consumed by
Russia's poor. A well-known, non-prescription Russian concoction
for heart problems ("nastoika boyaryshnika") is produced in
quantities that far exceed any reasonable medical demand. This
product is also sold in 50-100 milliliter bottles, apparently to
market it to drinkers. Likewise, Russia has 15 plants producing
alcohol for technical and industrial uses, though most experts
believe one plant would be sufficient to satisfy domestic demand.
These alcohol surrogates, as well as other solvents and cleaning
solutions, led to a spate of widely publicized alcohol poisonings in
2006 (Refs B, C).

Finding a Way to Shift Consumers to Beer
----------------------------------------

8. (U) Many speakers noted Russia could reduce hard alcohol
consumption either through heavy taxation of spirits or severely
restricting points of sale. Poland (historically, a vodka-drinking
country) in 1996 increased prices for spirits by introducing a heavy
tax, which led to a massive shift to beer drinking. By 2001, male
life expectancy increased by four years, and consumption of hard
alcohol dropped from 65 percent to 20 percent of overall alcohol
consumption. Finland and Sweden introduced beer sales in
supermarkets, but severely restricted the retail outlets for hard
alcohol, which also led to a reduction in spirits consumption. Some
experts also argued that reintroducing the Soviet-era state monopoly
on alcohol production would reduce consumption, though others
disagreed and felt a state monopoly would not influence drinking
habits.

Alcohol Deaths Still Serious But Declining
------------------------------------------

9. (U) There were 138,000 fewer deaths in Russia in 2006 compared to
2005, and deaths from alcohol poisoning dropped by 20 percent. Some
demographers argued that the decline resulted from legislation that
led to supply disruptions, including a law increasing the pre-paid
capital of alcohol producers and retail sellers, and the rocky
introduction of a unified automated accounting system for alcohol
production (Ref C). Other experts were more reluctant to link the
decline in mortality from alcohol poisonings to alcohol shortages,
and noted that the number of these deaths had been gradually
declining over the last two years.

10. (SBU) COMMENT: Many remarked at the notable absence of Ministry
of Health and Social Development officials. The conference also
paid little attention to alcohol awareness and measures to address
alcohol demand, an issue which is almost never mentioned by Russian

MOSCOW 00001434 003.2 OF 003


policy-makers. Western alcohol companies are adapting their
international awareness campaigns to Russia by emphasizing the need
to educate consumers about responsible drinking, such as how many
Russians do not seem to recognize that beer is an alcoholic beverage
like wine and spirits (Ref C). A medical officer from the Ministry
of Internal Affairs who did attend the conference, told us drinking
on the job is increasingly a problem within the police, and asked
about the experiences of U.S. police forces in managing alcohol
prevention and treatment programs. Conference participants intend
to present their conclusions and recommendations to the Presidential
Administration and to First Deputy Prime Minister Medvedev, but as
one well-known demographer told us, his own detailed reports on the
role of alcohol on Russia's demographic situation had been sitting
in the Presidential Administration for a year and a half with no
reaction.

11. (SBU) COMMENT CONT'D: Two officials from the Presidential
Administration briefly appeared: Nelli Naigovzina, Deputy Head of
the Expert Department, and Elvira Nabiullina, Head of Experts
Council for the National Priority Projects. Their presence suggests
that the Russian Government recognizes that widespread alcohol abuse
is fueling the overall demographic crisis. Despite the attention to
the issue, we do not expect the government to introduce any major
anti-alcohol measures, given upcoming Duma and Presidential
elections, and the still bitter memories of Gorbachev's anti-alcohol
campaign in the mid-80s. Gorbachev introduced a series of stringent
anti-alcohol measures in May 1985 that lasted until December 1987.
Although Russian mortality dramatically improved during this period,
the measures made Gorbachev extremely unpopular, and led to
shortages of sugar as a result of widespread moonshine production.

RUSSELL

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