The Russian parliament is considering a new bill that would raise the drinking age from 18 to 21 amid a nationwide campaign to cut down on alcohol consumption.
"Today, Russia ranks first in the world for alcohol consumption per capita, including children and the elderly,” the bill’s sponsor Vyacheslav Festisov said, Russian media reported.
“This is 18 liters of alcohol a year per citizen,” he added. “[The] age of initiation to alcohol in recent years has declined from 15 to 11 years. Experts estimate that in our country, because of alcohol consumption, of 100 young men only 40 will live to retirement age."
Festisov, who also serves as the deputy head of the Social Policy Committee in the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, added that alcohol was particularly detrimental to 18-year-olds.
"Eighteen-year-olds are not able to acquire an expensive and quality alcohol and, therefore, are limited to buying cheaper substitutes that threaten their lives and health,” he said. “It is about the younger generation we will lose if we do not take drastic measures. Half-measures will not help here.”
The bill arrives in the midst of Moscow's push to cut down on alcohol consumption in a society known for its love of its national drink, vodka.
Last July, President Vladimir Putin approved a ban on all alcohol advertising after launching a campaign in 2010 to slash alcohol consumption in half in Russia by 2020.
The sale of alcohol has also been prohibited between the hours of 11 p.m. and 8 a.m., and street kiosks are no longer permitted to sell booze.
Alcohol consumption has been one of the leading causes of death among working-age people, accounting for more than half of all deaths, according to a 2009 study from the University of Oxford.
More than 23,000 Russians die of alcohol poisoning every year, and 75,000 die from alcohol-related diseases.
“If current Russian death rates continue, then about 5 percent of all young women and 25 percent of all young men will die before age 55 years from the direct or indirect effects of drinking,” Professor Richard Peto, author of the study, said in a statement.
“When Russian alcohol sales decreased by about a quarter, overall mortality of people of working age immediately decreased by nearly a quarter,” he added. “This shows that when people who are at high risk of death from alcohol do change their habits; they immediately avoid most of the risk.”