Abstract: Background: In the course of a case-control study examining determinants of premature death among working age men, it became clear that a significant percentage of the population (7.3%) were drinking a variety of surrogate alcohol products (products not legally sold for consumption). In this population, where there is a high death rate from alcohol-related causes, including acute alcohol poisoning, it was important to know what these products contained.
Methods: The identity of products being consumed was identified from the survey of controls. Representative samples were obtained and subjected to analysis using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry to determine their composition.
Results: Three broad groups of product were identified: samogon (home-produced spirits); medicinal compounds; and other spirits (mainly sold as aftershaves). Commercially produced vodkas were used for comparison. Samogon contained lower quantities of ethanol than vodka [mean, 39 vs. 44 volumetric percentage (v/v%), respectively] but in addition contained certain toxic long-chain alcohols. Medicinal compounds contained only ethanol, at a higher concentration that vodka (mean, 66 v/v%), while the other spirits, which were also essentially pure ethanol, contained a mean of 94 v/v%.
Conclusions: A significant number of Russian men are drinking products that have either very high concentrations of ethanol or contaminants known to be toxic. These products are untaxed and thus much less expensive than vodka. There is an urgent need for policy responses that target their production and consumption.