Russia's heavy consumption of cheap, strong alcoholic beverages is the key factor behind the low life expectancy of its citizens, a leading Russian institute said in a study released Tuesday.

"Hazardous consumption of strong spirits is the main cause of high mortality in Russia," the Moscow-based New Economic School said in a statement announcing the release of its study.

The average Russian drinks from 15 to 18 litres of alcohol yearly, less than citizens of some European countries, but drinking in Russia is dangerously skewed towards vodka, said one of the study's authors, Irina Denisova.

"In terms of the structure of consumption, strong beverages make up the main part and that is the difference from other countries," Denisova, a researcher at the New Economic School, told a news conference.

Drinking strong alcohol "reduces life expectancy by nine to 10 years on average," Denisova said.

Russian men have an average life expectancy of just 61.8 years, according to official government statistics from 2008, the most recent year for which data are available.

Experts at the news conference urged authorities to raise the price of vodka in order to encourage Russians to drink less of it.

"In the short term it would be rational to replace vodka consumption with that of wine and beer," said Yevgeny Gontmakher, an expert at the Institute for Contemporary Development, a think tank that advises President Dmitry Medvedev.

Medvedev has sought to rein in rampant alcoholism, but previous anti-alcohol initiatives have proved unpopular among the Russian population.