In Kiev an international group ofexperts met to discuss the health situation in the former USSR. Evidence presented confirmed the role of alcohol consumption as an important determinant of mortality in Russia, and particularly among men of working age. Life expectancy in Russia (as well as Ukraine and Belarus) has been low over the past few decades — and is currently 58 years for Russian men. While most countries in Europe and worldwide have enjoyed an improvement in life expectancy over the past few decades, Russia has seen a decline.

However, very recently there has been a slight improvement in life expectancy in Russia. Research presented in Kiev suggested that this may be linked to the Government’s introduction of a licensing regime for alcoholic goods. The adverse health effects of “surrogate” alcohols is recognised by the Kremlin as evidenced by their mention in President Putin’s state of the nation speech last year. Surrogates are widely consumed alcoholic substances that are not intended to be consumed as beverages, such as eau de cologne and medicines containing alcohol. We have found that 7 per cent of working-age men in a typical Russian city in the Urals regularly consume surrogates.

These liquids are cheap sources of large amounts of ethanol with eau de colognes, for example, containing up to 96 per cent ethanol by volume.

Although surrogates do not contain any obvious impurities, consumption of such high levels of alcohol carries severe health and mortality risks.

We welcome any move to reduce their widespread consumption.