Date: January 02 2013
BEER in Russia became an alcoholic drink for the first time on Tuesday.
Many Russians consider beer a light refreshment that can be guzzled on the way to work or downed in great quantities before a picnic and a swim.
Hard drinkers sniff at its weakness, and there is a saying: ''Beer without vodka is like throwing money to the wind.''
But a hungover nation woke up to a new and troubling reality when, with the new year, beer became classified as an alcoholic drink for the first time.
Until now, it has been considered a foodstuff, along with all drinks under 10 per cent in strength.
An array of international and local brands, from Amstel to Efes and Baltika to Zhiguli, could be bought at street kiosks, railway stations and corner shops, like fruit juice or mineral water. Bus stops and petrol stations account for up to 30 per cent of sales.
Morning and evening, people supping from cans or bottles are a common sight in parks and squares and on Moscow's Metro.
But beer's new status as an alcoholic drink will prevent it being sold from street outlets, and sales between 11pm and 8am will be banned. Television advertising will also be outlawed.
The restrictions were approved by the then president, Dmitry Medvedev, in 2011 in an effort to tackle alcohol abuse, which he had described as a ''national calamity''.
The average Russian drinks the equivalent of 18 litres of pure alcohol a year, and about 500,000 deaths annually are thought to be drink-related. That includes a large number of road deaths and several thousand cases of drowning.
Vodka remains the most popular and damaging alcoholic drink in Russia, but beer has been steadily advancing on it in recent years.
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