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Data published since the late 1980s offer fairly detailed albeit still insufficient coverage of 1985 and later years, but little information is available for the preceding decades. Most basic statistics on alcohol consumption and abuse in the Soviet Union for the period from the early 1930s to the early 1960s are not available in public documents. Some of these data could probably be roughly reconstructed from primary historical alcohol production and sales records and police and public health archives, but such agendas seem to have rather low priority for the Russian government at this time.
Thus, budgetary alcohol revenues exceeded by a significant margin revenues generated by individual income taxes and social security collections. It is not, therefore, surprising that the influential Ministry of Finance of the Soviet Union was traditionally opposed to any cuts in sales of alcoholic beverages. In fact, Gorbachev's anti-alcohol campaign was rolled back after 2 years, mainly because of losses of budgetary revenues.
In the 1980s, the so-called "turnover tax" accounted for close to 90 percent of the retail price of vodka.
Samogon is the Russian equivalent of the American "moonshine." It is an alcoholic beverage produced by untaxed illegal home distillation of fermented foodstuffs such as grain, sugar beets, potatoes, and other vegetables and fruit. The alcohol content of samogon is usually about 40 percent. Production is very simple and requires few skills and equipment. The quality of the samogon produced depends on the inputs used and the method of distillation and filtration; the results can vary from a toxic and malodorous brownish brew to a clear vodka-type beverage.
Since per capita consumption is derived from the standard resident population, ignoring drinking by out-of-town visitors, the resulting statistics overstate consumption in larger cities and resort areas; furthermore, regional data exclude sales of alcohol on military bases.
Statistics on expenditures on alcoholic beverages are also available from periodic detailed surveys of 90,000 household incomes and expenditures (broken down by regions and household categories) regularly conducted by Goskomstat. These surveys have long been criticized in the West and in the Soviet Union for producing distorted and unrepresentative results and are probably worthless. For example, in 1980 and 1985 consumption of alcoholic beverages in rubles based on household budget surveys was reported, respectively, at 52 and 59 rubles per capita (Goskomstat SSSR, 1990a: 16 and 50). Per capita consumption estimated on the basis of total retail sales of alcoholic beverages was calculated as 204 and 210 rubles, respectively (Goskomstat Rossii, 1993c: 197-206). The understatement of quantities of alcohol consumed based on surveys of drinkers is well known to alcohol specialists in many countries. Soviet and post-Soviet household surveys are, however, particularly biased, and at the same time are too often used uncritically for analytical and policy purposes.
See Cronin (1995). Other comparisons collected in the author's database show similar results.
According to a report to the Central Committee of the Communist Party on the progress of Gorbachev's anti-alcohol campaign, sales of certain types of alcohol-based glue increased from 760 tons in 1985 to 1,000 tons in 1987; sales of glass cleaners increased from 6,500 to 7,400 tons in the same period; and sales of perfume products, which averaged 3.2 billion rubles in the 1983-1984 period, rose to 4.5 billion rubles in 1987 (Izvestiya, 1989:50).
Understandably, large-scale factory production of alcohol is far more efficient in the use of inputs than is home distillation. Thus any shift of production of alcohol from state facilities to homes entails significant net losses of produce.
These estimates were derived by regression analysis for three separate years for 73 regions in Russia, broken down into ethnic populations. The estimates of the ratio of per capita consumption of alcohol by Slavs and others over that by Muslims are as follows: