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Why Russia finally decided that beer is alcohol

Until Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the new law today, beer was considered the same as soda and sold just about anywhere.

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A measure signed into law today by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will define beer as an alcoholic beverage for the first time in Russia, and finally put limits on where and when the brew can be sold.

Russian public health advocates and family groups have long complained about lax legislation that classified beer as a foodstuff. That enabled it to be sold like a soft drink, even from street kiosks, and consumed openly in any public place.

Even tourists visiting Russia often remark on the ubiquitous sight of people, including teenagers, swigging on bottles of beer while walking down the street, sitting in the bus or riding the metro.

All that is set to end on Jan. 1, 2013. Under the law signed by Mr. Medvedev, only licensed shops will be able to sell beer and never between 11 pm and 8 am. Public transport stops, gas stations, airports, and kiosks, which account for about a third of all beer sales in Russia, will not be able to sell the beverage at all.

The measure has driven the stocks of leading breweries that cater to the Russian market sharply lower, but it's attracting cheers from public organizations dedicated to fighting Russia's high rates of alcoholism.

"This is a good beginning in efforts to regulate the beer industry, although beer is not the main source of Russia's problems," says Kirill Danishevsky, co-chair of Control Alcohol!, a grassroots coalition.

"At least they've recognized that it's an alcoholic drink, and that's a huge step forward. At last there will be a complete ban on sales from outdoor kiosks and an end to TV advertising for beer," he says.

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