Friday, August 6, 2004

Russian parliament brews up ad strictures

By Mara D. Bellaby
The Associated Press

MOSCOW - Thanks to hip advertising and trendy breweries, beer's popularity has soared in the land of vodka.

But Russia's brewers have hit a snag: The lower house of parliament passed legislation Thursday that would put some of Europe's toughest restrictions on beer ads.

The move reflects growing concern about alcoholism and lawlessness in Russia - and underscores the tremendous impact that the abstemious president, Vladimir Putin, is having on a country with unwanted notoriety as a global capital of vice.

chart If the measure gets upper house approval and is signed into law, no beer ads at all would be allowed on TV or radio from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. At other times, the ads couldn't show humans, animals or animated characters or imply that beer is connected with social or athletic success - restrictions that also were extended to beer ads for newspapers and magazines.

Lawmakers cited public concerns about growing alcoholism and youth drinking, and some regional lawmakers are pushing for a ban on drinking in public.

"The situation is very critical. We may lose an entire generation," Mikhail Grishankov, deputy head of the security committee in the State Duma, parliament's lower house, was quoted as saying by the business newspaper Vedomosti.

On average, Russians drank about 15 gallons of beer per person last year, still below many European nations, but consumption is growing, the Russian Brewers' Union said.

Beer is sold around the clock at kiosks that have sprouted on almost every street corner, costing as little as 15 rubles for a half-liter bottle, or about 50 cents a pint. And Russians can be seen drinking beer almost anywhere - on the subway, on the sidewalk - and at almost anytime - before work, on lunch break and at day's end.

Lawmakers accused brewers of trying to woo young drinkers with some of Russia's most sophisticated advertising clips. Tinkoff brewery was pressured into pulling some sexually provocative ads, such as one featuring a man lying down with two naked women.

Societal attitudes to drinking appear to be changing. In opinion polls, Russians regularly praise Putin's dislike for heavy imbibing, and the rumored drunken binges of his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, embarrassed many Russians.

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