Page last updated at 05:11 GMT, Friday, 1 January 2010

Russia slaps minimum price on vodka

By Daniel Fisher
BBC News, Moscow

Russians drink vodka under sign saying 'Homeless, not allowed to sit here'
Previous restrictions on vodka in Russia have had fatal consequences

Russian authorities have brought in new measures imposing a minimum price for all vodka sold in the country.

The move is part of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's plan to tackle alcoholism.

The cheapest bottle of vodka on sale will now be 89 roubles ($3;£1.80) for half a litre.

An average Russian earns just under 18,000 roubles ($600; £367) per month and illegal vodka can be found for as little as 40 roubles.

Experts estimate that sales of bootleg vodka in Russia make up almost 50% of all vodka drunk by Russians.

As an average Russian drinks 34 bottles a year, that adds up to a lot of bottles.

Mr Medvedev is determined to cut that by a quarter by 2012 - a brave target considering the lack of success his predecessors have had.

The problem is that historically, whenever Russia has tried to combat excessive drinking, sales of illicit alcohol have risen.

Homemade vodka in Russia is highly dangerous and contributes heavily to the country's 35,000 deaths a year from alcohol poisoning.

The most draconian anti-alcohol campaign was virtual prohibition under former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in the late 1980s.

That resulted in people drinking perfume and industrial alcohol which in turn led to widespread death and injury.

The worry is that, at best, this gesture is just a token effort and at worst may even encourage the production of illicit vodka.

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