eISSN: 2450-5722
ISSN: 2450-5927
Journal of Health Inequalities
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vol. 4
Book review

Review of the book Politics under the Influence. Vodka and Public Policy in Putin’s Russia by Anna L. Bailey

Jacek Moskalewicz

Department of Studies on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Institute of Psychiatry and Neurology, Warsaw, Poland
J Health Inequal 2018; 4 (2): 102–104
Online publish date: 2018/12/31
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The book’s catchy title, as well as the ‘sexy’ titles of individual chapters, sometimes go beyond scientific neutrality [1]. For example, Chapter 5 is entitled “The judo gang: informal networks and perception of powers”. This suggests the author’s critical attitude towards ‘Putin’s Russia’, and could be viewed as a source of potential bias in her analysis.
Nevertheless, the book reads very well and brings together thousands of facts, documents and opinions that decipher the somewhat mysterious aspects of Russian alcohol consumption and alcohol policies against the backdrop of the country’s general politics. In addition to a detailed description of contemporary developments, a historical overview is offered, spanning from the prohibition imposed by the Tsar around the First World War and continued in Soviet Russia until the late 1920s, through the notorious attempts to reduce alcohol consumption and related problems in consecutive decades, up to the anti-alcohol crusade initiated by Gorbachev in the mid-1980s. As in the United States, where alcohol policy had been shaped in the shadow of the Prohibition and reduced to individual controls for decades after its repeal, Gorbachev’s crusade discouraged any attempts to control alcohol supply in the 1990s. Russia’s rapid transition to a market economy also eliminated alcohol control policies from the available repertoire of policy options. Alcohol control policies were rejected as a symbol of Soviet times when the State could interfere in all spheres of life of its citizens including their most private and intimate habit of vodka drinking.
During the very first years of political and economic transition in Russia, the alcohol market, like all markets in general, underwent extreme deregulation. Alcohol became available round-the-clock in thousands and thousands of outlets, not only in shops and bars but also in kiosks and non-stationary outlets that mushroomed across the country. The lion’s share of alcohol consumed in Russia consisted of unregistered spirits produced by domestic and foreign companies, which deprived the State budget of substantial revenues. Affordability of vodka further increased as its prices diminished substantially, while the prices of other consumer goods sky-rocketed. The high tide of alcohol consumption was followed by a wave of detrimental effects on public health and safety. According to various estimates, the liberalisation of alcohol supply and access in the 1990s led to...

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