31.10.2012 Expert opinion: Solutions for the alcohol market

1. Are there measures in place to solve the problems of alcoholism at the start – for example, a weak economy in the Russian regions, or lack of opportunities for quality education?

2. What danger lies in an illegal market, social or economic?

3. Do you think that a “Nordic model” of a state monopoly could work in Russia?

Pavel Shapkin,

Pavel Shapkin

© RIA Novosti. / Alexander Natruskin
Pavel Shapkin

director of the National Center for the Development of Alcohol Policy

1. Alcoholism is an illness, first of all, determined by genetics, which affects 6 to 8 percent of the population according to different assessments. If a person with an alcohol dependency has drunk a little, then he cannot stop. Alcoholism is incurable. The one remedy is full abstinence.

The reasons for excessive drinking are several:

  • breaking the ice;
  • feelings of satisfaction, brought about by a rush of endorphins into the brain;
  • relief from an uncomfortable psychological condition (problems, depression, failures in personal life);
  • escaping from an uncomfortable physical condition (illness, hangovers, tremors);
  • loosening up, taking on resolve and creative energy. Required measures to lower the level of drunkenness are:
  • limiting access to alcohol;
  • promoting healthy living through mass media and film as the basis for achieving successes in life;
  • promoting the rejection of drunkenness as an antisocial development and undesirable behavior;
  • promoting healthy eating and drinking as an alternative way to increase endorphins;
  • correctly and knowledgeably explaining the harm alcohol can cause to health.

This promotion requires budget funds and targeted grants for financing the work of professional creative agencies and placing advertisements in the media. There is still no funding, however – the basis of the fight against drunkenness in Russia is aimed at administrative bans and stronger sanctions.

2. The illegal alcohol market carries two dangers: economic, for the budget (related to the loss of tax revenue); and a danger related to the risk to consumers’ health. The recent events in the Czech Republic, where illegal alcohol prepared with methyl spirits killed 28 people, are a decisive demonstration of this. To solve the problem of illegal production of alcohol in licensed enterprises – instead of the current excise tax – the introduction of a tax on production capacity, through strict control over minimal prices on alcoholic products, is required. To prevent the penetration of dangerous methyl spirit into the illegal production of alcohol, bitrex [an extremely bitter additive designed to make consumption of household chemicals physically revulsive] should be added. I personally wrote a bill to this effect in 2006. It was introduced in the State Duma, but was withdrawn from consideration on the initiative of the Finance Ministry.

3. The experience of a Scandinavian- style alcohol monopoly would work very well for Russia. For the limit of access to alcohol prepared by a licensed producer, it is the most effective mechanism. In the government, there is no single opinion on this question. However, raising taxes in the current system of regulation for the alcohol industry could require the introduction of a state monopoly of wholesale and retail sales of alcohol production as soon as 2015. However, production of homemade spirits could develop with the lack of antialcohol promotion.

Igor Barbashov,

Igor Barbashov

© RIA Novosti. / Alexander Natruskin

Igor Barbashov

general director of General Production, a member of the National Association of Low-Alcohol Beverages

1. Russia is a country where historically consumption of strong alcohol has taken the shape of the “northern type.” People do not begin to drink less because of bans or limits. We think that changing the situation is possible only by creating conditions for the development of a category of low-alcohol products and re-orienting people from strong alcohol toward consumption of low-alcohol drinks: wine, low-alcohol cocktails (ready to drink, or RTD) and beer.

In Australia, where the RTD sector is developing well (0.47 liter of pure alcohol per person annually), people at the age of 20, trying low-alcohol cocktails, do not move on to strong drinks, but continue consuming a measured quantity of low-alcohol drinks. Mortality from poisoned alcohol in Australia amounts to 0.00031 percent of the general population. In Russia, where low-alcohol cocktail consumption comes to 0.1 liter of pure alcohol per person per year, mortality comes to 0.01 percent of the general population, that is, 26 times higher than in Australia.

2. We see the main danger of the illegal market in the whole disregard of quality standards. Such alcohol can be dangerous to one’s health. When people buy cocktails in aluminum cans of a known producer, it guarantees with its own name that all ingredients are mixed in the optimal proportion and that the product will be safe. Any substitute of an unknown provenance could lead to lethal results.

3. Beyond Scandinavia are hundreds of countries, including the most progressive countries with the highest standards of living, such as Japan, the United States, Britain and Germany, where ideas of a state monopoly in retail sales of alcohol have been abandoned.

We have had experience of a state monopoly in alcohol sales in our own recent past. In the ’80s, beyond a state monopoly on the sales of spirits, there were also limits on the time and assortment of products. How did this play out for the population? Mortality from alcohol poisoning was several times higher than now. Competition for quality did not exist, which brought about the black market. A state monopoly on the sale of spirits, as exists in small Scandinavia, could throw our large country back decades and kill competition.

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