As I noted last summer, the Russian male's public drinking habits are something to behold. But the law classifying beer as booze and not a food passed into law this week and may bring an end to all that - for apparently good reason:
Since coming into office three years ago Medvedev has introduced a series of steps aimed at bringing down the rate of Russian alcohol consumption, which is one of the highest in the world. According to official sources, the average Russian imbibes about five gallons of pure alcohol each year, which is twice the level the World Health Organization describes as the “danger level.” A 2009 study in the medical journal the Lancet estimated that alcohol abuse accounted for 600,000 deaths annually in Russia and fully half of all deaths of men between the ages of 15 and 54.
Average? I never know with these things but that stat looks to me like as many drink more than five gallons as drink less. A hard habit to shift. Yet, the new law is trying to do just that with some pretty strict changes including: "...a complete ban on sales from outdoor kiosks and an end to TV advertising for beer." While, we do not have beer sales like soda pop, we certainly do have beer ads. I was watching the Seattle broadcast of the Mariners v. Sox game last evening and was interested to see at least two ads for craft beer, both focusing on the local pride aspect of good beer. In Canada, ads on TV for booze were brought back around 15 years ago. And we're not booze maddened nations over here in North America... are we?
"Cultural" is often as muddling as clarifying when used to describe or explain but there must be something cultural at play in Russia that is simply not in the western world. Fewer alternatives for escape, Slavic machismo, really cheap beer? Or is it that westerners have changed, that what we see in Russian street life is maybe what was normal in the pre-temperance world, four or five generations back?