A study of more than 150,000 people found
extraordinarily high premature death rates among male Russians, some
of whom reported drinking three or more bottles a week of the potent
Perhaps unsurprisingly, deaths among heavy drinkers were mainly due
to alcohol poisoning, accidents, violence and suicide, as well as
diseases such as throat and liver cancer, tuberculosis, pneumonia,
pancreatitis and liver disease.
"Russian death rates have fluctuated wildly over the past 30 years
as alcohol restrictions and social stability varied under presidents
Gorbachev, Yeltsin and Putin, and the main thing driving these wild
fluctuations ... was vodka," said Richard Peto of Britain's Oxford
University, who worked on the study.
The researchers, including David Zaridze from the Russian Cancer
Research Centre in Moscow, noted that whereas British death rates
between age 15 and 54 have been falling steadily since 1980, mainly
because so many people there have stopped smoking, Russian death
rates in this age range have fluctuated sharply — often
approximately in line with alcohol consumption.
Under Mikhail Gorbachev's 1985 alcohol restrictions, alcohol
consumption fell by around 25 percent — and so did the death rates,
they said. And when communism in Russia collapsed, alcohol
consumption went up steeply, as did death rates.
More recently, since Russian alcohol policy reforms were introduced
in 2006, consumption of spirits has fallen by about a third and so
has the risk of death before age 55, the researchers said — although
that risk is "still substantial".
For this study, published in the Lancet medical journal, researchers
asked 151,000 people how much vodka they drank, and whether they
smoked, then monitored them for up to a decade.
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Around 8,000 of them died during that time, and the results
showed much higher risks of death in men who smoked and who also
drank three or more half-liter bottles of vodka a week than in men
who smoked and drank less than one bottle a week.
Zaridze described the relationship between vodka and deaths as a
"health crisis" for Russia, but stressed it could also be turned
around if people were to drink more moderately.
"The significant decline in Russian mortality rates following the
introduction of moderate alcohol controls in 2006 demonstrates the
reversibility," he said.
"People who drink spirits in hazardous ways greatly reduce their
risk of premature death as soon as they stop."
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)
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