Russia slaps minimum price on vodkaRussian authorities have brought in new measures imposing a minimum price for all vodka sold in the country. The move is part of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's plan to tackle alcoholism. The cheapest bottle of vodka on sale will now be 89 roubles ($3;£1.80) for half a litre.Experts estimate that sales of bootleg vodka in Russia make up almost 50% of all vodka drunk by Russians. As an average Russian drinks 34 bottles a year, that adds up to a lot of bottles.Mr Medvedev is determined to cut that by a quarter by 2012: a brave target considering the lack of success his predecessors have had. The problem is that historically, whenever Russia has tried to combat excessive drinking, sales of illicit alcohol have risen.The worry is that, at best, this gesture is just a token effort and at worst may even encourage the production of illicit vodka. (BBC)For once, a BBC journalist gets exactly the right end of the stick. Raising the minimum price of legal vodka is going to increase the number of Russians turning to illegal vodka for a cheaper drink. It will also increase the temptation for Russians to distil vodka for personal use and sale, and might even reverse the smugglers' pipelines, moving supply into Russia.So while Medvedev may achieve a goal of decreasing demand for legal vodka, he will also increase the harm caused by illegal vodka. Measuring the net effect would be fraught with assumptions about the relative values of harms, but it is clear that there would be positive and negative effects. I'd be willing to say that if you counted up medical cases averted against cases caused, though, the balance would probably land on the negative side of the ledger.If he wants to do something about the dangers of consuming illegal vodka, he needs to make safe, legal vodka cheaper so that drinkers will prefer it to the cheap, illegal, dangerous product they now consume. Making it more expensive is not going to help Russian drinkers (i.e., Russians) to make choices which are sensible and safe.Drugs prohibition doesn't work whether it's moonshine in 1920s America, vodka in modern Russia or narcotics across the Western world. Time to try another approach.