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Beer now considered alcohol, not food, in Russia as new restrictions take hold

Dmitry Kostyukov / AFP - Getty Images, file

Russians, like this Muscovite enjoying some suds at an outdoor pub, will no longer have unfettered access to beer, under a new law that takes effect Jan. 1.

It will be tougher for Russians to cry in their beer in 2013.

Restrictions on when and where beer can be sold go into effect Jan. 1 with a law that declared beer is alcohol, not food.

Under the new rules, beer can only be sold in licensed outlets — not street kiosks, gas stations and bus depots like it has been. Russians won't be able to buy it from shops between 11 p.m. and 8 a.m., and beer commercials are a thing of the past.

The limits are part of a government effort to reduce alcohol abuse in Russian, where one in five male deaths are linked to booze, according to world health experts.

Not everyone is toasting the change, however.

The brewing industry warns that the crackdown could make harder alcohol even more popular.

"It will be tougher if you want to buy a beer on the way home from work, or pop down from your apartment," Isaac Sheps, chairman of the Union of Russian Brewers, told London's Daily Telegraph.

"So you have to stock at home. And stocking beer is more problematic than stocking vodka. It's bulky, it's big and there's no room for it in small homes. It's much easier to buy two bottles of vodka and manage for your instant need for alcohol.

"So it's quite ironic that this attempt to improve health and lower alcoholism could have the opposite effect and cause people to drink more harmful spirits," Sheps said.

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Vodka is king in Russia. Government statistics show the spirit accounted for almost 50 percent of alcohol sales between January and November, while beer rose a bit to 32 percent. Wine had an anemic 10 percent market share. And champagne accounted for 1 percent of sales.

In the past few years, the Russian government has introduced an array of measures aimed at reducing what then-President Dmitri Medvedev called a "national calamity."

"We are used to smoking, drinking, eating a poor diet and doing little sport and then falling ill, and expect to be operated on or take pills to get better," Nikolai Gerasimenko, deputy head of the lower house of parliament's health committee, told Bloomberg in October.

“That's got to stop.”

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