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Russian 'surrogate' alcohols are a killer

ion and sales, an increase in alcohol prices, a strengthening of mandatory treatment of alcoholism, and enforcement of measures against home production. Results were swift. From 1985 to 1987, life expectancy increased by 3.2 years for men, and 1.4 years for women, after two decades of a continuously slow decline."

In 1992, however, economic reforms led to a liberalization of alcohol prices and few, if any, restrictions on alcohol sales. "Hard liquor became available 24 hours a day," said Shkolnikov. "Consequently, from 1992 to 1994, life expectancy decreased by 4.7 years for men and 3.4 years for women, largely due to accidents and violence, alcohol-related causes, and cardiovascular deaths."

For the current study, researchers analyzed the surrogate products being consumed, dividing them into three broad groups: "samogon" (home-produced spirits, also known as "moonshine" in North America); medicinal compounds, essentially tinctures containing herbal remedies; and other spirits (mainly aftershave products and cleaning fluids). Commercially produced vodkas were used for content comparison.

The results indicate that a significant proportion of Russian men are drinking products that have either very high concentrations of ethanol, or contaminants known to be toxic.

"We found that home-made alcohol had about the same amount of alcohol as vodka, but also contained a number of more toxic alcohols that could cause damage to the heart and liver," said McKee. "The medicinal substances were about one and a half times as strong as vodka. The third group, including products such as aftershaves, was more than twice as strong as vodka."

Both McKee and Shkolnikov believe the study results are highly applicable to other regions in Russia.

"In the early 1980s," said Shkolnikov, "it was estimated that samogon constituted about one third of the total amount of alcohol consumed in Russia. Its production was largely concentrated
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Source:shkolnikov@demogr.mpg.de


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