Two in five Russians (39%) are teetotalers, according to a survey by state-owned pollster Russian Public Opinion Research Centre (VTsIOM).
Alcohol consumption has been falling steadily for years as life gets better in Russia. Following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 hitting the bottle led to a catastrophic collapse in life expectancy; male life spans fell to only 56 years, but since then have recovered to 72.4 years, according to the most recent survey.
And the number of people abandoning booze has also been rising as Russia’s middle class is becoming increasingly health conscious. In 2009, a quarter of respondents said they did not drink alcohol, but that is up to the current 39%, with women and 18 to 24-year-olds drinking even less: 47% of both these categories don't drink at all.
Amongst the Russian elite absence is quite common. President Vladimir Putin drinks rarely according to reports, while former Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov was famously teetotal. Also Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev does not drink, preferring the bright green non-alcoholic Tarkhun beverage, invented in Georgia, popular amongst Russian children and made from tarragon.
The survey found that 59% of citizens say they drink “from time to time”, but in the overwhelming majority of cases not more than a few times a month.
The majority of Russians (80%) said they are aware that alcohol has a negative impact on their health. Only 15% of respondents believe that alcohol is harmless to the body.