MOSCOW -- An extensive study
published on January 31 in "The Lancet," a leading British medical journal, has identified vodka consumption as a "major cause of the high risk of premature death in Russian adults."
The study tracked 151,000 Russian adults from 1999 to 2008 – 8,000 of whom died -- and found there was a "much higher" risk of early death among men who drank three or more bottles of vodka a week compared with men who consumed less than one.
According to co-author Richard Peto of the University of Oxford, the research confirms a correlation between government-imposed alcohol restrictions and lower death rates over the last thirty years in Russia.
"The main thing driving the wild fluctuations in death was vodka," Peto said in a press release.
In the 1980s, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev cracked down on alcohol consumption which in turn led to a twenty-five percent decrease in death rates. But the move was deeply unpopular and later abandoned. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, mortality rates boomed and alcoholism was rampant.
Professor David Zaridze of the Russian Cancer Research Center in Moscow, and a co-author of the report, said Russia's mortality rate is currently down since the government introduced alcohol restrictions in 2006.
He pointed to rising excise duty on imported alcohol, tougher punishment for selling alcohol to minors, as well as a ban on advertising as small positive steps.
In 2010, then-President Dmitry Medvedev launched a campaign against alcohol, banning overnight sales of alcohol and raised the minimum price of vodka.
"I would say these are quite moderate, minor measures," said Zaridze. "But per capita sales of alcohol of strong alcohol have declined by 33 percent."
In 2005, 25 percent of Russian men died before the age of 55 years compared with only 7 percent in the United Kingdom, according to the report, which attributed this gulf to smoking and drinking.
The study isolated the impact of vodka on its interview subjects from other factors including smoking, education, and place of residence. The subjects were taken from industrial Siberian cities Barnaul, Bryisk and Tomsk, which have death rates similar to the national rate.
"The Lancet" study is the second on alcohol and death in Russia by a team of scientists from the Russian Cancer Research Center in Moscow, Oxford University in the UK, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in France.