In an effort to curtail the negative effects of alcohol consumption on its civilians’ health, Russia is considering a once-a-week ban on alcohol sales in St. Petersburg. Widespread alcoholism has contributed to the nation’s low life expectancy, which for males is only 61 years, according to a U.N. Development Program report.
The new program would not be the first attempt at reversing one of Russia’s favorite pastimes. Mikhail Gorbachev attempted to decrease consumption through price hikes and limits on production in the early 80s. As a result, drug use rose along with instances of poisoning by those who consumed brake fluid or rubbing alcohol. The Russian government also suffered large drops in revenue due to its heavy reliance on alcohol taxes.
Russia’s affinity for drinking dates back over 1,000 years. When Russia’s Prince Vladimir converted the nation to Orthodox Christianity in 988, one of his reasons was the religion’s tolerance of alcohol. By the mid-17th century, one third of Russian males had become indebted to the nation’s taverns. In order to prevent a drop in alcohol revenues around that period, Peter the Great ordered peasant wives to be beaten if they attempted to remove their husbands from taverns before they were ready to leave.
The trend has continued into the modern day, with Russia’s former Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin publicly supporting the situation, stating in 2010 that the best way for citizens to help, “the country’s flaccid national economy was to smoke and drink more, thereby paying more in taxes.”
The ban would do little to decrease consumption. If past attempts have been met with increases in bootlegging and drug use, there is no reason to think citizens wouldn’t take the extra effort to get their booze from outside the city.
In recognition of this, Russian Public Chamber member Dmitry Chugunov stated, “Limiting alcohol sales won’t have a 100 percent effect without a comprehensive ban in other regions.”