MOSCOW, Jan. 31 (UPI) -- Twenty-five percent of Russian men die before age 55, the average life expectancy for Russian men is age 64, and many blame vodka, researchers say.
The study, published in the Lancet, found Russian male smokers who drank three or more half-liter -- half-quart -- bottles of vodka weekly doubled their risk of dying compared with those who consumed less than half a liter a week.
The study said heavy drinkers mainly die from alcohol poisoning, accidents, violence, suicide, cancer, tuberculosis, pneumonia, pancreatitis, liver disease and heart disease, RIA Novosti reported.
In recent years, the Russian government, which has described the country's alcohol abuse as a "national disaster," made a goal to halve alcohol consumption by 2020. The government also went after illegal production and sales.
The study in The Lancet said due to these alcohol policy reforms, Russia's consumption of spirits dropped by a third since 2006, as has the risk of death before the age of 55.
"Russian death rates have fluctuated wildly over the past 30 years as alcohol restrictions and social stability varied under Presidents (Mikhail) Gorbachev, (Boris) Yeltsin, and (Vladimir) Putin, and the main thing driving these wild fluctuations in death was vodka," said study co-author Richard Peto of the University of Oxford.
"This has been shown in retrospective studies, and now we've confirmed it in a big, reliable prospective study."
Study leader David Zaridze of the Russian Cancer Research Centre in Moscow said the significant decline in Russian mortality rates following alcohol controls in 2006 demonstrated that those who drank spirits in hazardous ways reduced their risk of death as soon as they quit.
The study, published Friday, coincided with the unofficial 149th anniversary of vodka's invention.