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In Barents Russia, alcohol consumption is higher than the national average

Thu, 10/08/2015 - 08:54 By Gleb Yarovoy, Petrozavodsk State University

According to the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda ("Komsomol Truth"), all five subregions of the Russian Barents are in the top ten most drinking regions in Russia. In fact, data from the Federal Service for Alcohol Market Regulation and Rosstat shows that volumes of purchased alcoholic drinks in the five subregions exceed the national average substantially, sometimes multifold.

Vodka - connecting people
The Nenets Autonomous Okrug (AO) has the highest consumption of strong spirits in Russia. While the country’s average annual consumption rate is eleven liters per person, in Nenets AO, the rate is more than four times the national average (45.4 liters per person). The Republic of Karelia (19 liters) follows Nenets AO with a big lag; and in third place comes Arkhangelsk Oblast (18.5 liters), followed by Komi Republic (17.7 liters) and Murmansk Oblast (17.5 liters). The Republic of Karelia is the only region where the consumption of strong alcohol has increased, albeit slightly, over the past year. In the other regions, and Russia in general, it has decreased.

Traditionally, people who live in the Northern Russian regions have a preference for vodka and various alcoholic tinctures. With a huge backlog, these favorites are followed by cognac and brandy (which in Russia is also referred to as cognac). Whiskey closes the list.

It is interesting to note that Northerners like brandy more than the average Russian. The average national consumption rate for brandy is 0.8 liters per person (per year), whereas in the Russian Barents it ranges from 1.2 liters in Arkhangelsk Oblast to 1.6 in Murmansk Oblast.


In vino veritas?
Consumption of wine and wine-based drinks in the Northern regions is, as in the previous case, substantially higher than generally in Russia. Annually, an average Russian drinks up to 7.8 liters of wine and wine-based beverages (with an alcohol content up to twenty-five percent). Northerners, on the other hand, tend to enjoy a glass of wine almost twice as often. The main wine lovers live in Murmansk Oblast, where the average citizen consumes 14.3 liters per year. This figure is followed by the Republic of Karelia, with an average annual wine consumption of 13.1 liters per person; the Republic of Komi with 12.2 liters; Arkhangelsk Oblast with 12 liters; and Nenets AO with 11 liters per person.

Symptomatically, consumption of wine-based beverages has increased in all parts of the Russian Barents over the last year (except for Nenets AO, where it has remained stable) – as opposed to the overall national trend. 

For this category of alcoholic beverages, preference is unconditionally given to “traditional” wine. In Komi Republic, Murmansk and Arkhangelsk Oblasts, consumption of traditional wine is accounted to seven liters per person annually. In Nenets AO, the figure is 7.5 liters, and the Republic of Karelia tops the list with 8.4 liters per person per year.

Champagne and sparkling wine (which in Russia, by the good old Soviet tradition, is exclusively referred to as “champagne”) make the second favorite beverage in this category. The highest number of “hussars” live in Murmansk Oblast, where the annual consumption rate is 3.2 liters per person, whereas the lowest number of champagne lovers can be found in the Republic of Karelia (1.9 liters). Interestingly, this is the only type of alcoholic beverage (except for beer) for which the Karelian consumption is below the national average. Overall, for Russia, the rate is around two liters per person. 

Murmansk Oblast is also in the lead when it comes to consumption of “wine-based beverages” (cheaper and usually lower-quality substitutes for wines). Compared to the national average of 1.1 liters per person in a year, an average citizen in Murmansk Oblast consumes 3.3 liters. In Karelia and Komi, the intake of wine-based drinks is significantly lower, ca. 1.9 liters per person, and even lower in Arkhangelsk Oblast (1.3 liters). The people of Nenets AO even seem to be somewhat repulsed by wine-based drinks: their consumption in the region does not exceed 0.6 liters per person.

It is noteworthy that, in some of Russia’s Northern regions, consumption of wine-based drinks has increased severalfold since 2012 (e.g. four to five times in Karelia and Murmansk); while in others, most evidently in Nenets AO, it has decreased. Within the same period, consumption of wine-based drinks in Russia as a whole has doubled. An obvious reason for this trend is the increased prices on traditional wine, which became noticeable in the second half of 2014. The increase came with a considerable decline in the ruble exchange rate due to sanctions and low oil prices.

BEAR does not like beer
The cold climate of the BEAR (Barents Euro-Arctic Region), is obviously not conducive to the emergence of a sense of thirst. Apparently, there is no need to cool down with a bottle of cold beer. As a result, the “amber drink” is the only type of alcohol that is less popular in Barents Russia than in other parts of the country. While the national average is nearly seven liters per person per year, in Arkhangelsk Oblast, Murmansk Oblast and Nenets AO, beer drinking does not exceed 5.5 liters per person. In the Republic of Karelia, the figure is around six liters per person. Only the population of the Komi Republic can be called “beer-lovers”: on average, each citizen drinks almost nine liters of beer in a year. 

Capturing a disturbing trend, or shouting "SOS"?
Alcoholism can be considered a traditional problem in Russia. Traditionally, the Northern regions have always been ahead of the South in terms of alcohol consumption. Over the years, the government has tried to fight this problem in different ways: by introducing a state monopoly on alcohol production and distribution, or even by declaring a prohibition law. 

The current state policy on alcohol consumption is mainly boiled down to prohibitive measures. An example of this was the ban on alcohol sales at night and on certain days (such as September 1, the Day of Knowledge). In addition, alcohol sales in the buildings of educational institutions have been prohibited. A separate ban has been put on alcohol advertising in the media - although early in 2015, the advertising of beer and Russian-made wine returned to the television). Finally, there was the establishing of minimum prices for alcohol products. 

However, in many cases, statistics have shown that these measures do not work, or are insufficient to fight the problem. We are witnessing an increase in alcohol consumption, while, at the same time seeing a decline in the population (as previously reported). 

Among the living population, the problem of alcoholism is currently more acute than ever, and the authorities acknowledge this issue. As reported by, Russia’s Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova recently stated the following: 

“Mortality has increased in Russia, and this is not by the fact that the population is aging. There is an increased mortality among young people, aged 30 to 45. The terrifying part is that, in seventy percent of cases during autopsies, alcohol has been detected in the blood of deceased patients. […] Just imagine, we are nursing infants that weigh 500 grams, while forty percent of the children under one year of age die because of drunken moms who squeeze their babies”, – Skvortsova added.   

The bigger picture
Figures from Patchwork Barents show that the Russia is in the biggest alcohol consumer among the four Barents countries. As the figure below illustrates, all five of the Russian subregions have an annual consumption rate above thirty liters per person for wine and distilled beverages. In comparison, the figure for Northern Norway is around twenty liters per person, and in Northern Ostrobothnia (Finland), the equivalent figure is seventeen liters. 

Interestingly, the figure also shows that while this rate slightly increases in the Norwegian and Swedish part of the Barents Region, it is actually decreasing in the Russian and Finnish parts of the region. 

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