Putin backs tougher alcohol laws after 62 die from toxic bath essence

A bottle of hawthorn bath essence is confiscated during an operation checking all private stores selling alcohol in Irkutsk, Russia, on Dec 19, 2016.
A bottle of hawthorn bath essence is confiscated during an operation checking all private stores selling alcohol in Irkutsk, Russia, on Dec 19, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

MOSCOW (AFP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday (Dec 21) ordered tighter regulations on alcohol as the death toll among those who drank bath essence containing toxic methanol rose to 62 in Siberia.

Putin ordered the government to introduce tougher laws by next July on the production and sale of perfumes, lotions and household cleaners containing alcohol as well as human and veterinary medicines.

In an order published on the Kremlin website, Putin also raised the possibility of changing excise duty tariffs on legitimate alcohol "with the aim of reducing demand for fake alcohol."

The measures came after the Siberian city of Irkutsk has seen a wave of deaths among those who consumed a liquid labelled as hawthorn-flavoured bath essence that contained methanol, a toxic substance used in antifreeze.

From Saturday (Dec 17) to Wednesday evening, 62 people have died from methanol poisoning, the Irkutsk regional health ministry said, while 36 people are still in hospital.

 

Putin's spokesman earlier this week called the deaths a "tragedy," while the regional authorities have declared a state of emergency.

Impoverished drinkers in Russia often turn to cheap vodka substitutes such as perfumes and cleansers because they are cost far less than legitimate alcoholic drinks.

Such liquids usually contain drinkable ethanol, not methanol which is deadly even in small doses.

Investigators have detained 12 people suspected of producing and selling the bath essence.

The speaker of Russia's upper house of parliament Valentina Matviyenko said Tuesday that those responsible should stand trial for "premeditated murder."

Just 20 to 50 millilitres of methanol can be fatal and the people affected had usually drunk significantly more, Irkutsk region's chief toxicologist Alexei Tretyakov told RIA Novosti news agency.

Methanol first affects the kidneys and liver and usually causes a person to go blind as it damages the optic nerve, Tretyakov said.