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Opinion
Peter R. Orszag

Putin's Other War? Russians' Binge Drinking

He ordered citizens to go easy on the vodka and smokes. It's working.
Moderation is key.

Moderation is key.

Photographer: Yana Lapikova/AFP/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin may be undermining global peace and civic rights, but he's doing this much well: extending his compatriots' lives. In 2013, Russian life expectancy at birth was 71 years, which is less than the worst state in the United States (Mississippi) and almost a decade below the developed-country average. That year, in typically imperious fashion, Putin ordered the government to raise life expectancy to 74 years by 2018. And while that goal may well not be reached, it is remarkable how much progress is being made in cutting back on alcohol use and smoking in Russia.

Alcohol consumption has been linked to a large share of deaths for those ages 15 to 54 in Russia -- as much as half, according to one study. Tobacco use also contributes substantially to premature deaths, with the result that smoking and alcohol use combined accounted for an estimated 1 million Russian deaths a year.