Russia on Friday imposed a new minimum legal price for vodka in a bid to hinder the sale of cut-price black market moonshine blamed for the deaths of thousands of Russians every year.

From the first day of the New Year, a new law came into force stipulating that the minimum price of a half-litre bottle of vodka is 89 rubles (2.9 dollars), official Russian news agencies reported.

The measure is aimed at preventing the sale of black market vodka which is often made from dubious ingredients but sold at rock-bottom low prices.

Officials hope the move will protect both the health of Russians and also legal vodka producers, who in common with almost every industry in the country have been hit by the economic crisis.

According to the Interfax news agency, sales of black market vodka account for one half of all sales of the drink in Russia.

"The introduction of this measure will deprive black market producers of their main competitive advantage - low prices," said Dmitry Dobrov, the spokesman of the Russian association of producers of alcohol products (SPAP).

He told the Interfax agency the state would also benefit by receiving greater tax revenues from the sale of alcohol but more needed to be done to help legal alcohol producers.

Production of vodka and other spirits in Russia fell by 11.2 percent in the first 11 months of 2009, according to the state statistics agency.

"Amid all the discussions about alcoholism in Russia we have not done the most elementary thing," said Alexander Korovka, spokesman of giant local distiller Russian Alcohol.

"We have not enforced responsibility of the producer and the seller in front of the consumer and this allows whole shelves of products to appear on shops that do not inspire trust," he told Interfax.

Alcohol abuse kills some 500,000 Russians annually and greatly impacts male life expectancy, which is lower than in impoverished countries such as Bangladesh or Honduras, according to official figures.

President Dmitry Medvedev has said fighting alcohol abuse is an urgent priority for the country and announced he will introduce a zero-tolerance law for drink-driving.