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Moscow outlaws night-time spirit sales

Moscow’s civil authorities are banning off-trade sales of spirits at night, a move backed by the country’s president in the ongoing struggle to tackle Russia’s drinking culture.

It will soon be illegal for retailers to sell any kind of spirits between the hours of 10pm and 10am.

This is a step up from a previous law, which prohibited the sale of any drink over 15% abv between 11pm and 8am.

However, the law was routinely flouted due to a legal loophole, which allowed shopkeepers to apply for a 24-hour sales licence from the authorities.

President Dmitry Medvedev has previously talked of his shock at what he called “colossal” levels of drinking and has set about combating over-consumption and its links to black market production and supply.

It is thought that around 51% of the spirits available on the market are distilled illegally in towns and villages.

Excessive drinking is a serious problem in Russia and is often cited as the main cause of premature death in males and Russia’s declining population.

Vodka’s share of the Russian spirits market is roughly 70% and remains the main killer. It is thought that half a million people die of alcohol-related causes in Russia every year, with the average Russian consuming a litre and a half of pure alcohol every month.

As a result, Russia has raised the minimum price on a bottle of vodka to 89 roubles (£1.87), increased the excise duties on beer and is considering cutting sales at street kiosks.

Police have also begun enforcing a zero drink-drive limit and there are further plans to make selling alcohol to minors a criminal, rather than an administrative, offence.

These measures are the latest in successive Russian governments’ attitudes to alcohol, which are further hampered by drinking’s association with the “macho-culture” so prevalent in the country.

When Mikhail Gorbachev curtailed alcohol supply during the 1980s, it led to a fall in alcoholism and deaths but also to a huge surge in moonshine made from alcohols found in aftershave, boot polish and window cleaner.

Rupert Millar, 23.08.2010

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