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A shocking 43% of deaths in working-age Russian men result from drinking alcohol not meant for human consumption, such as cologne and cleaning agents, according to a new study.
The findings help explain why Russian men have the lowest life expectancy among industrialised nations, at just 59 years, say the researchers.
David Leon at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK, and colleagues travelled to western Russia, where they interviewed the housemates and family members of 1750 men, aged 25-54, who died in the industrial city of Izhevsk.
They also interviewed 1750 similarly aged men in the same city. The aim was to find out how much both groups of men drank, and what types of alcohol they consumed.
Leon’s group classified men as having a “hazardous pattern of drinking” if they had a hangover more than twice a week, engaged in a bout of extreme binge drinking known as zapoї – resulting in drunkenness that lasts at least two days – or if they consumed non-beverage alcohols, such as eau de cologne at least once a year.
Many Russian men who fall on hard times start drinking non-beverage alcohols because they are cheaper and have a high alcohol content, Leon says.
For example, a 100 millilitre bottle of 190-proof eau de cologne might cost about 15 rubles, roughly equivalent to 29 pence ($0.60). By comparison, the smallest volume bottle of 80-proof vodka on sale is 0.75 litres, and costs about 70 rubles, about £1.40 ($2.70).
The consumption of non-beverage alcohol products is widespread, the researchers say. Even 8% of the men in the control group drank them, they found.
An analysis of the Izhevsk survey suggests that Russian men who drink non-beverage alcohol have a five-times greater risk of alcohol-related death (such as liver cirrhosis and alcohol poisoning) than those who do not consume these products.
Moreover, men who drank only non-beverage alcohols had up to a 20-times greater risk of death. And the researchers think these numbers represent underestimates, since the study did not include men who lived alone or on the streets.
Non-beverage alcohols are particularly dangerous because of their high-alcohol concentration, which can strip the airways that deliver oxygen to the lungs, Leon explains.
Economic hardship following the dissolution of the Soviet Union has contributed to problem drinking in Russia, says David Cutler at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, US, who has studied the impact of alcoholism in the country.
“For a lot of people in Russia the bottom just fell out,” he says. “And they don’t have a social safety net.”
Alcohol is linked to 72% of murders and 42% of suicides in Russia, according to 2005 figures.
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