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Gorbachev's 'Dry Law': the most successful health intervention in history?

Heavy alcoholic drinking is recognised as an important contributor to high mortality in Russia and is likely to explain the huge fluctuations in life expectancy seen in Russia over the past forty years. Gorbachev took the radical step of introducing prohibition between 1985-87, with dramatic results that proved positive for health. To many public health experts, particularly those from outside of Russia, the prohibition period is regarded as an extraordinarily effective intervention. However, to others it was in the end bound to fail because it was just another “top down” Soviet policy.

David Leon is Professor of Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.  Over the past 20 years much of his work has been mainly on understanding the reasons for the high and fluctuating mortality of the Russian population. He currently leads a large international research project on heart disease in Russia.

Oliver Bullough is the acclaimed author of the Orwell Prize-shortlisted Let Our Fame Be Great, and The Last Man in Russia: And The Struggle To Save A Dying Nation (2013). The book looks at the roots of the heavily alcoholic drinking that afflicted Russia in the 1960s and traces its trajectory the present day, particularly its effects on health and population numbers. 

This talk is part of our season of events accompanying our current exhibition: 'Alcohol: Soviet anti-alcohol posters.' (23 March-13 April).