Soviets announce crackdown on alcoholism

The Soviet Union has announced plans for a major crackdown on alcohol abuse, involving a cutback in production of alcoholic beverages and new penalties for drunkenness. The measures are necessary, according to the official announcement, because ``abuse of alcohol is so far quite often not regarded as an immoral, antisocial conduct, that the force of the law and of public opinion is not applied to drunkards in full volume.''

The Soviet drinking age will be raised from 18 to 21, and the hours for sale of liquor will be curtailed.

The measures were drawn up by the Communist Party Central Committee and the Soviet government. They will undoubtedly be approved by this country's parliament, the Supreme Soviet, when it meets in June.

According to the Tass announcement, the output of ``strong alcoholic drinks'' will be reduced every year, starting in 1986. The announcement did not make clear which ``strong'' drinks would be involved. However, the average Soviet citizen consumes nearly eight liters of alcohol a year, much of it in the form of vodka and cognac.

Further, the government plans to increase production of soft drinks.

In one of the more sweeping measures, the government says that by 1988 it will completely halt production of alcoholic beverages ``based on fruit and berry juices,'' and instead increase production of juice, jam, and fresh, dried, and frozen fruits and berries. This step appears targeted at so-called fortified wines -- wines with a boosted alcohol level.

The new measures include fines for persons drinking alcohol in streets, stadiums, or parks -- or for appearing in a public place ``in a drunken state.'' Drunk drivers will be fined 100 rubles ($125) -- nearly one-half the average monthly wage in this country, and could be imprisoned from one to three years.

Those who intoxicate minors -- including their own children -- can be charged with criminal offense. And the regulations promise tough penalties for those who brew alcohol at home or sell it illegally.

One reason cited for alcohol abuse, especially among young people, is boredom, especially in smaller cities and towns.

The government and party say they will pay ``greater attention to organizing healthy rest and recreation.'' According to the Tass announcement, this would involve not only better use of existing halls, stadiums, and sports facilities, but also construction of new ones.

Authorities are also planning to ``intensify anti-alcohol propaganda,'' and plan to establish a nationwide ``volunteer temperance society.''

The 1988 ban on production of ``alcoholic beverages based on fruit and berry juices,'' could, if taken literally, mean an end to the sizable wine and brandy distilleries in Armenia, Moldavia, Georgia, and other southern republics.

Muscovites -- who had heard rumors of major price increases and vodka rationing -- did not seem overly impressed by the new measures.

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