Many would instinctively associate Russians with heavy drinking, however how has this stereotype been formed?
The Russia Federation is a member of the OECD and according to the data on life expectancy at birth, Russia has an average of 71 years (women 76 years and men 65 years). This figure is close to a decade below the OECD average of 80 years. The figures released by the OECD are alarming, but we must draw back on Russia’s checkered history for an explanation with regards to its heavy drinking culture.
There are links to be made between the stability of an economy, quality of life, the strength of a country's health system and the level of alcohol consumption. In the early to mid 1900’s Russian’s were born into an era of relative stability, fundamental life essentials such as health care, schooling and employment were available and reliable. Since the collapse of the USSR in 1991, to the Ruble crisis in 1998 and currently a fragile economy due to a plummet in world oil prices we have witnessed a series of crises causing instability on a national scale. Alcohol played a pivotal role during these crises as a stress reliever for males and an easy way out for the millions of neglected workers.
Prior to 1985 no effort was made to curb the consumption of alcohol, one of the main factors of this was due to the fact that the government relied on the sale of alcohol to fund the country’s budget.
“Excise taxes on alcoholic beverages and state profits derived from he alcohol and wine industry and imports accounted for between 12 and 14 percent of all state revenues.” (Premature Death in the New Independent States, Vladimir G. Treml)
Across Russia, especially in blue-collar jobs, the consumption of alcohol was seen to be an almost natural occurrence. The status quo was that of ‘only real men drink’, a type of machismo which was widespread throughout the country. Drinking alcohol in excessive amounts became part the national character of Russian people.
In 1985 Gorbachev’s large-scale anti-alcohol campaign set out to curd this pandemic, for example taxes on alcohol were increased dramatically, alcohol was banned at official functions and party members who drank heavily were dismissed. The campaign was an obvious success in reducing the level of alcohol consumed:
In three years, per capita consumption of state-produced alcoholic beverages was cut by a remarkably high 67%. (Premature Death in the New Independent States, Vladimir G. Treml)
Nevertheless the campaign was short lived and by 1988 it ceased to exist due to losses in budgetary tax revenues, the unpopularity of the campaign and the widespread substitution of the illicit production of home brewed alcohol such as 'Samagon'.
An association between heavy drinking and Russia is part of popular culture, alcohol is heavily ingrained in Russian society and therefore, in order to change this mindset, changes have to be made from the top. In 2011 Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a bill officially classifying beer as an alcoholic beverage, prior to this anything containing less than 10% alcohol in Russia was considered a foodstuff. Furthermore in 2016 President Putin made headway by banning beer in plastic bottles larger than 1.5 liters, this was in addition to the country-wide ban on sales of alcohol in shops after 11pm and the introduction of a minimum price on vodka.
Author: Matt - British - Market Analyst