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Russia Hikes Minimum Vodka Price

A 28% price increase is meant to help control Russia's alcohol problem. But will it work?

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Russians have a reputation for hitting it hard.
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By Bryan Le

05/29/12

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Vodka in Russia is set for its latest price hike this July. Alcohol watchdogs there previously bumped up the minimum price in January 2011 and 2012, and are now trying even harder to control the hard-drinking nation's love of hard liquor by raising the minimum price 28%—the cost of a 0.5 liter plastic bottle of vodka will go up from 98 rubles to 125 (about $4 USD). Authorities have pressing reasons for this action: one in 13 Russians is an alcoholic and one in eight Russians dies of drinking. But Russia has sometimes had a weird attitude to alcohol—the nation recently debated whether beer should be considered a food, and considered solving its drinking problem with wine. In light of such “solutions” to alcoholism, a price hike may seem reasonable. But there's concern that it could make things worse. Some government attempts at quashing vodka have led to a bigger boom in black-market booze. “It [vodka] is important to Russians,” says Moscow-based sociologist Olga Kryshtanovskaya. “Village people always will and always have, even 100 and 200 years ago, made moonshine [illegal vodka] because they must have it.” Those who can't make their own have been known to drink perfumes, brake fluid, eau de cologne, window cleaning liquid, lighter fluid and aftershave in lieu. Counterfeit vodkas, lethally laced with one or more of the aforementioned undrinkable household liquids, killed “only” 17,000 Russians in 2006, a welcome fall from the 21,000 dead in 2005. Other alcohols, like brandy, are also set to receive proportional price hikes in the future.

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