MOSCOW, September 24 (RIA Novosti) - Alcohol consumption in Russia is more than double the critical level set by the World Health Organization, the interior minister said on Thursday.
"In Russia, each person, including babies, accounts for about 18 liters of spirits per year. In the opinion of WHO experts, consumption of more than 8 liters per year poses a real threat to the health of the nation. Russia has long exceeded this level," Rashid Nurgaliyev said.
He also said that alcohol abuse was increasingly affecting young people.
"The average age of people committing themselves to drinking alcohol has come down from 16 to 13 years. The total number of children aged 10-14 who drink alcoholic spirits rose 15.4% in 2008 (10.85 million)," he said.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered the government on September 11 to prepare draft laws on his package of measures to counter alcohol abuse.
On August 12, the president said that measures taken so far to curb alcohol abuse and other addictions in the country had been insufficient, and ordered the government to develop new rules for the sale of alcohol.
The proposals include tougher sanctions against retailers who break alcohol sale laws, which may lead to criminal proceedings against repeat violators. The law will also enable regional authorities to introduce restrictions on the times, conditions and locations of alcohol sales. The measures also include a ban on selling low-alcoholic drinks in containers of more than 330 ml.
The Russian Public Chamber said in a report in June that around 500,000 Russians die from alcohol-related deaths annually.
The pollster VTsIOM has said that 65% of Russians would support an anti-alcohol program, with 34% totally in favor of a campaign and 31% "likely to support it."
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev introduced prohibition in the Soviet Union in May 1985 in an attempt to put a halt to the rampant alcoholism that was already taking its toll on the nation's economy and health system. His efforts to steer the Soviets to abstinence were ultimately unsuccessful, however, and the illicit production of moonshine - 'samogon' - rocketed, not to mention a sudden rise in sales of medicinal and industrial spirit. The never-popular policy of prohibition was later quietly dropped.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, modern Russia quickly found itself engulfed in an epidemic of alcoholism of catastrophic proportions, as what was already a serious social and health problem transformed into something on an apocalyptic scale.