A top politician in Russia has called for a state monopoly on the sale of alcoholic beverages in the country in the wake of the growing number of alcohol-related deaths.

Boris Gryzlov, speaker of Russia's parliament the Duma, said it was "not enough" to have a state monopoly on the production of pure alcohol.

"I think it's also time to raise the issue of a state monopoly on the sale of products that contain alcohol," he was quoted as saying yesterday (31 October) by the Interfax news agency.

Russia has seen scores of deaths in recent weeks from alcohol poisoning as drinkers die from liver failure after drinking bootleg vodka often laced with industrial solvent.

Fourteen towns in the Irkutsk region of Siberia have declared a state of emergency, amid an upsurge in mass poisonings caused by the fake vodka. In the Orenburg region, 22 people died of alcohol-induced hepatitis in October, Interfax reported.

Gennady Onishchenko, who heads Russia's Federal Consumer Protection Service, told the Prime-Tass news agency yesterday that the recent wave of alcohol-related health problems was a coordinated campaign by bootleggers aimed at disrupting a crackdown on the sale of illegal alcohol.

Little can be done to stop the demand for such products, however, since many poor people can afford little else, Onishchenko said. "The people who are getting poisoned have below-average incomes," Onishchenko told Prime-Tass. "Most of them are alcoholics and will keep on drinking."

Nevertheless, the botched introduction of a new excise regime earlier this year led to a severe shortage of legitimate vodka on Russian shelves. The authorities failed to produce enough new tax stamps for spirits sold in Russia - but banned the sale of products with the old stamps.

Last week, President Vladimir Putin said there would be no restrictions on the sale of alcohol in Russia. He also blamed government officials for the bungled duty scheme.