Russians toast defeat of public beer ban

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The Independent Online

An unprecedented and deeply unpopular drive to curb the post-Soviet boom in drinking on Russia's streets has been derailed at the last minute, to the delight of beer lovers.

An unprecedented and deeply unpopular drive to curb the post-Soviet boom in drinking on Russia's streets has been derailed at the last minute, to the delight of beer lovers.

Russia's beer industry has enjoyed huge growth since the collapse of the USSR in 1991, with beer replacing vodka among many young Russians who regard it as little more than a soft drink.

At 40p or so a bottle, it is not uncommon to see commuters swigging bottles on Moscow's metro in the mornings, middle-aged couples arm-in-arm clutching cold beers and for children as young as 11 to neck pivo after school with friends.

Russians have a plethora of choice from thousands of kiosks open around the clock. In practice there is no age limit. But the Russian parliament, keen to eradicate many of the excesses which have crept into society, had decided enough was enough. The lower house overwhelmingly backed a Bill to ban drinking beer on the street, in sports stadiums, in parks, on public transport, in schools and in hospitals. Sale of beer to children under 18 would also have been outlawed, with fines up to 100 rubles (£1.90). This would have accompanied tough rules on TV advertising due next year.

But the Federation Council, or lower house, has unexpectedly demanded the Bill be watered down, and observers expect street drinking will not now be outlawed, although measures to combat child alcoholism are likely to remain.

But a new law which bans smoking in some public places (with the exception of bars and restaurants) has been approved by the lower house and is expected to be rubber-stamped by the upper house. The legislation also forbids sale of cigarettes and tobacco products in establishments related to "health, culture, education or sport".

Life expectancy in Russia has dropped to below 59 since 1991, with 22,000 registered child alcoholics and drug addicts; beer consumption has risen from 14.6 litres a year per head in 1996 to 51 litres in 2003. In Moscow and St Petersburg the figure is as high as 75 litres.

Official figures claim alcohol causes up to 30,000 deaths a year, and the World Health Organisation says that at least 60 per cent of males over 15 smoke, placing Russia fourth in the world smoking league.

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