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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 November 2006, 17:11 GMT
'People's vodka' urged for Russia
By Steven Eke
BBC Russian affairs analyst

Two Russian men drink vodka. File photo
More than 40,000 died in Russia after drinking fake vodka in 2005
The head of Russia's union of wine and spirits producers has called on the country's lawmakers to legislate for the introduction of "people's vodka".

Osman Paragulgov says the introduction of a cheap, but safe and regulated drink, would help poorer Russians currently unable to buy genuine vodka.

Russians often turn to substitutes - often with fatal results.

Several Russian regions have declared states of emergency recently after a spate of fake vodka poisonings.

Mr Paragulgov says the worst-hit areas should be used as a testing ground for "people's vodka", or, as he says it would be better named, "social vodka".

He says the move would help to establish whether the death toll - now running into thousands of people a month - could be reduced.

'Simple bottles'

Mr Paragulgov is an influential figure in one of the world's hardest-drinking nations.

He says his organisation is acting out of concerns for the health of Russians.

Pointing out that some 30% of Russian vodka-drinkers struggle to afford genuine supplies, which are subject to excise and value added tax, he says there is a serious need for a safe and accessible alternative.

Such a vodka, Mr Paragulgov suggests, should be sold in simple bottles - neither eye-catching enough to attract better-off drinkers, nor so wretched as to embarrass its poorer consumers.

Furthermore, he says, there is no intention to flood Russia with cheap vodka, and so a system of rationing may be necessary.

It might seem astounding that a national drinks manufacturers' association should effectively call for the state to supply cheap alcohol to a significant part of the population.

Yet the situation in Russia with poisonings by fake vodka, often containing lethal alcohol substitutes, is astounding.

Last year, more than 40,000 people died after drinking such liquids.

Yet President Vladimir Putin has ruled out attempts to force Russians to drink less.

He says past attempts to impose restrictions had always failed.

Instead, tougher state regulation of the quality of vodka has emerged as the policy of choice.

According to Russia's interior minister, more than eight million tonnes of potentially dangerous substances have been seized in recent months as part of a campaign against the production and sale of counterfeit alcohol.

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