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Window on Eurasia — New Series: Russians Dying from Alcohol, Tobacco and Accidents at Far Higher Rates than in Other Countries


Paul Goble
            Staunton, November 6 – One of Russia’s greatest demographic problems is super-high mortality among working age males. Far too many of them are dying far too young; and among the most significant contributors to this problem are overconsumption of alcohol and tobacco and accidents related to that and in the workplace.
            In the last few days, there have been two important reports on this tragedy.  In the first, Deputy Health Minister Oleg Salagay says that worldwide, alcohol is behind about a fifth of all deaths and tobacco behind about a tenth, but that the figures for Russia are much worse (tass.ru/obschestvo/5750589).
            And in the second, experts say that Rosstat’s claims of a reduction in the number of deaths by accident are incorrect, that the number is rising, and that as a result, Russians are now dying from accidents far more often than are people in other countries (russian.eurasianet.org/россия-в-числе-лидеров-по-количеству-смертей-на-рабочем-месте).
            Vasily Vlasov, a specialist on public health at the Higher School of Economics, says that it is a good thing that Salagay is acknowledging the problem but that unfortunately, the government has not taken the necessary steps to reduce the consumption of alcohol and especially that of the most dangerous kinds  (polit.ru/article/2018/11/06/smokendrink/).
            Vodka needs to be more heavily taxed and the rate of taxation must exceed the rate of inflation, Vlasov says; but despite much talk, the government hasn’t taken the necessary steps  – and so all claims to the contrary, too many Russians are still drinking too much and dying as a result.
            As far as accidents in the workplace and more generally are concerned, officials claim real progress in reducing mortality; but Russian experts say there are many reasons why such claims should be treated with skepticism or even rejected outright (russian.eurasianet.org/россия-в-числе-лидеров-по-количеству-смертей-на-рабочем-месте).
            On the one hand, even with the progress Moscow claims, Russia still has the highest rate of workplace deaths of any country in the post-Soviet space and a higher rate than in other countries as well. Official figures show that last year, six out of every 100,000 Russians died at the workplace, far higher than in the UK where the figure was less than one per 100,000.
            And on the other, experts point out, there are problems with the official statistics. The number of factory inspections the government has made has fallen from 37,400 in 2010 to 9,200 in 2016. Workers in the shadow economy are not accounted for at all. And firms have numerous incentives to avoid reporting workplace accidents.
            If they can present themselves as accident free, their social insurance rates drop; if they do report an accident and especially a death, their rates skyrocket. Not surprisingly, specialists on the Russian economy say, firms do what they can to avoid reporting accidents and deaths, thus making official figures laughable. 

Window on Eurasia — New Series