Why Would I Drink This?

Russians died due to drinking bath lotion. What makes this household substance so dangerous for consumption?

Darren Tung, News Team

A few weeks ago, over 70 people were found to have been killed in Irkutsk, Russia. Cause of death: alcohol poisoning from a “surrogate alcohol” translated to English as “Hawthorn.” “Hawthorn” is actually something most of you use every day: bath lotion. The whole concept of drinking bath lotion probably sounds ridiculous to you, but to Russians, it’s anything but.

Russians, and Eastern Europeans love alcohol. In fact, according to the World Health Organization’s report on alcohol consumption around the world, all but one country in the top 10 (Andorra) was located in Eastern Europe, with Russia in particular placing fourth. All of these countries consume over 13L (3.43 gallons) of alcohol per capita per year. Depending on the country, this means anything between 733 standard drinks per year to nearly 1,000. Most people of Eastern Europe are willing to pay the extra money to buy expensive alcoholic beverages. However, the amount of people has dropped in Russia in the wake of sanctions imposed on the country thanks to its invasion of Crimea back in 2014. This caused a drop in the currency, and the lack of interest to spend big bucks on alcohol. Nevertheless, partially due to the physically and psychologically addictive properties of alcohol, Russians still continued to drink, trying to find something with ethanol available at a cheap price….

Which leads to bath lotion. Vodka costs about $3 per 500mL in Russia. By comparison, a typical bath lotion only costs around 35 cents for the same amount. Many Russians began ignoring warning labels on bath lotions to just drink them, even though most lotions contain over 90% alcohol (Spirits, the most alcoholic beverage, contains just 40% by comparison). The health defects of drinking counterfeit alcohol are so terrible, they make problems with regular alcohol look like nothing. Whereas alcohol poisoning with manufactured alcohol won’t kill you unless you drink an excess amount in one sitting, counterfeit alcohol could kill you in just one drink. This is due to the presence of methanol, a type of alcohol commonly used as an antifreeze that is extremely toxic to humans. When consumed, methanol can cause comas, blindness, nerve damage, and sometimes, immediate death. It is the reason why people were poisoned in Irkutsk after drinking bath lotion; the manufacturer found out that there was methanol, not ethanol in the lotion, and didn’t correct the labels.

Schools around the country always stress their students to stay away from alcohol usage. However, ethanol could be found elsewhere, like with bath lotions in Russia. Schools should have another argument against alcohol usage: alcohol could be in everyday products that you may not drink, but will cause your death if you do.