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Russian President Dmitry Medvedev held a meeting on measures to reduce alcohol consumption in Russia
In his opening remarks at the meeting, the President said that past measures taken by the authorities to reduce alcohol consumption in Russia have not had any real effect and the problem remains serious. Alcoholism has reached the proportions of a national disaster, Mr Medvedev said.
The President said that the alcoholism problem can be addressed effectively through systemic and long-term action, and proposed introducing a series of restrictive and educational measures, as well as making more extensive use of other countries’ experience.
Opening Remarks at Meeting on Reducing Alcohol Consumption in Russia
PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA DMITRY MEDVEDEV: Colleagues,
As was agreed a while ago, we are meeting today in expanded format to discuss measures for fighting alcoholism. At the State Council meeting on youth policy we agreed to address this subject separately, in detail, and make the necessary decisions.
You know just how serious a problem alcoholism has become for our country. Frankly speaking, it has taken on the proportions of a national disaster. According to the Healthcare and Social Development Ministry’s statistics, per capita alcohol consumption in Russia – taking the whole population, including babies – now stands at 18 litres of pure alcohol a year. You can calculate for yourselves how many bottles of vodka this means – quite simply alarming. This is more than twice the level that the World Health Organisation defines as dangerous for people’s health and lives. Such a high level is quite simply a real threat to our country’s and people’s normal life.
We have taken various measures over these last years of course. Tighter rules on production and sale of alcoholic beverages were introduced, and significant restrictions were imposed on their advertising. Tougher penalties were introduced for drunk driving. But so far, we have not seen any real change in the situation. To be really honest, all of these efforts have had no real effect at all. Let’s be up front about this. All they have done is brought some order to the situation.
Alcohol and alcohol surrogates are one of the main causes of our high mortality rate. Our demographic problems are also to a considerable extent linked to the alcohol consumption problem. We all know that alcoholism can cause incurable diseases, above all cardiovascular diseases. It is a cause of suicides, a factor in serious crimes, and also a cause of everyday accidents, of which we have far too many. Indeed, I think that around 80 percent of such accidents take place under the influence of alcohol.
We said at the recent meeting on road safety that drunk drivers were responsible for almost 5,000 road accidents over the first half of this year, killing or injuring 8,000 people. Take a hard look at this figure. Where else in the world do we see such a situation?
Alcohol also has a destructive impact on raising children. What kind of child-rearing can there be in such a situation? None at all. Add to this the fact that alcoholism breaks apart tens of thousands, probably even hundreds of thousands of families every year in our country, and we realise what kind of effect the breakdown of families has on the general microclimate.
Alcoholism also causes huge economic losses. These include the losses from lower labour productivity, damage from fires caused by drunkenness, and other economic costs. The list can go on.
We are realists, I hope, and we realise that alcoholism is a never-ending problem. It is not something that can be simply eradicated overnight, of course, but many countries have made efforts to tackle it. No matter what people say about it being too deep-rooted in our culture, about it being practically impossible to fight alcoholism in Russia, we must recognise that other countries, and you know them yourselves, have been successful in their efforts to address this issue.
Our own experience and that of other countries show that alcoholism can be addressed effectively only through systemic and long-term action. Naturally, this calls for a comprehensive approach. On the one hand, we need to introduce restrictive measures, and on the other hand, we need to carry out educational work, promote a normal, healthy lifestyle. The most important thing of all is to give people the desire and possibility of leading a normal, full, healthy and sober life. We all realise that this is possible only when people have normal living standards. You cannot defeat drunkenness in a poor country. We are aware of this fact. But rising living standards do not automatically lead to a fall in alcohol consumption, and sometimes even the reverse is true. In the 1990s, our living standards were lower, but objectively, we drank less.
I will say a few words about what I think are the priority measures to take.
Our first task should be to stop the rise in alcohol consumption among young people. This is absolutely essential. We know that the habit of drinking at every turn can quickly lead to serious alcohol dependence. The experts note that consumption of beer and low-alcohol beverages is on the rise among adolescents above all. According to the statistics at our disposal, a third of boys and 20 percent of girls consume such drinks every day or every second day.
Order needs to be brought to the way retail outlets operate. Our laws prohibit the sale of alcohol to people under the age of 18. This has always been the case except for a period, the older among you will recall it, when you could not buy alcohol until you were 21. But we all know that this rule is frequently broken. This was not the case during the Soviet period. I think that tougher penalties should be introduced for breaking these laws. The sale of alcohol to minors is unacceptable. Just look at how much of a stir similar cases abroad arouse. Usually it gets in all the media, but here, look how easy it is for anyone to buy a bottle of vodka or pack of cigarettes. In the past (during the Soviet period), they at least asked to see your passport.
Second, there are increasingly frequent calls to change the regulations applying to the production and sale of beer and low-alcohol beverages. There are proposals to bring them under the same regulations and restrictions applying to spirits. We would need to evaluate all of the possible consequences such a step would have, but there is a need for effective measures in this area. Let’s discuss this matter.
This also concerns the ban on selling alcohol near schools, universities, sports and recreation centres. This concerns too, the requirements for retail premises where alcohol can be sold, and the restrictions on alcohol advertising. I think some very serious proposals have been made. As I said, they require thorough analysis and detailed discussion. This is precisely why all of you, including regional governors, are present here today.
Third, life has already shown that officially imposed prohibitions alone cannot resolve the problem. This is obvious. We need to put real effort into prevention of alcoholism, above all among young people. We need to take a new and modern approach in this work and make use of all the possibilities the education system and mass media offer. We need to take into account the interests and mentality of young people today. In other words, we need to avoid tired old stereotypes and we need to get the widest range of public organisations involved in this work. Their representatives are also present today, and so I suggest that we discuss this too.
That is all I wanted to say for a start. Let’s begin our discussions. I give the floor to Ms Golikova, the minister for healthcare and social development.