There are an estimated 43.9 million smokers in Russia. Up to 500,000 people die of smoking-related diseases every year.© RIA Novosti. Valery Titievsky
RIA Novosti correspondent Diana Markosian
On a lazy Sunday afternoon, at a smoky café in central Moscow, Polina Stepanova, 25, savours one more cigarette, as she contemplates the prospect of a New Year without a nicotine fix to accompany her cup of coffee.
Like many smokers worldwide, she is trying to quit.
But in a land where people light up pretty much at will in restaurants, bars, nightclubs and offices, it is a daunting reality.
“A cup of coffee calls for a cigarette,” Stepanova says as she takes another drag. The café, packed with Muscovites puffing away, makes it hard for her to resist. “Obviously everyone in this café had the same thought as me,” she says.
In Russia, the government has recently condemned smoking, calling it a “tragedy for the nation.” The government has announced a plan to ban advertising and promotion of cigarettes from 2011 and to introduce a complete ban on smoking in enclosed spaces by 2015.
That will likely to be a rude shock for the country’s 43.9 million smokers. Bans on smoking in public have already been enforced in several European countries, even if the law is loosely enforced.
In Italy, nearly as many people smoke now as before Rome passed a law in 2005 prohibiting smoking in cafés, according to a poll conducted by the Italian Health Ministry.
Spain banned smoking in public places in 2006, but the law contains loopholes. In practice, people can smoke in most bars, and most restaurants allow smoking for fear of a backlash from consumers.
In Russia, where the number of female and teenage smokers has doubled to 20 percent over the last two decades, the law is unlikely to be readily accepted.
“If someone banned me from smoking at a café, I wouldn’t go there,” says Irina (who didn’t want her surname disclosed).
“I don’t understand why we even need a ban? Everyone in Russia smokes. It seems like it would cause an inconvenience for a lot of people.”
The average Russian lights an average of 17 cigarettes a day. Every year 400 billion cigarettes are sold in the country, ranking Russia first in the world in the number of smokers per head. A pack of cigarettes costs less than a dollar, slightly more expensive than a loaf of bread, making it affordable for all. And, unlike in the United States and many West European countries, tobacco in Russia is hardly taxed.
Public awareness campaigns have been increasing in recent years, with messages becoming less subtle.
In the Moscow metro, billboards showing a model wearing a dress made of cigarettes (with the caption: “no longer fashionable”) have given way to pictures of a sleeping infant with a cigarette placed on its back and the message: “Smoking in a child’s presence is torture for him.”
This year, the country also slapped “smoking kills” warnings on cigarette packages in an effort to crack down on an addiction that kills up to 500,000 people a year.
But the social stigma attached to smoking in Russia doesn’t seem to be the same as in the United States. Rather, cigarettes in Russia are seen as both a passport to and a symbol of a person’s independence and success.
“It’s all marketing,” says Olesya Batog, president of the Consumer Societies Confederation, a nonprofit group in Moscow, and one of Russia’s top specialists on tobacco control.
“If you flick through any magazine, you see glamorous Russians who are independent and under no one’s control, they seem to always have a cigarette in one hand and a man in the other.”
With the country now drafting its budget for next year’s anti-tobacco campaign, Russians will need much more than a ban or a warning sign on their pack of cigarettes to rid their habit.
“It is stupid to ban things in this country,” says Irina. “Look at the ban on alcohol, it is not like people stopped drinking; no, they found other ways of getting their fix.”
“The government wants to change a lot, but it’s not going to be that easy in this country,” says Batog. “There’s a lot of corruption, and a lot of it just depends on peoples’ desire to change something in their own life.”
MOSCOW, October 27 (RIA Novosti, Diana Markosian)
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- firstname.lastname@example.orgRussia 2010 just like Canada in 198021:23, 27/10/2010In 1980 in Canada smoking was allowed everywhere, bars, clubs, restaurants and offices.
And just like Russia is seeing today the causality figures from cigarette related illnesses is staggering.
In Russia yearly deaths attributed to smoking are 500,000 based on a population 134 million people. In Canada it was 77,000 a year based on a population of 20 million people in 1980.
If your country was in a war and loosing 77,000 people a year drastic offensive changes would be made to defeat the enemy.
This is what happened in Canada and the United States in the 1980's.
Civil war was declared on cigarette smoking.
Because of the addictiveness of smoking the target of the STOP SMOKING campaign was children. If kids could be educated not to smoke until they were 18 years old then it was very unlikely they would start.
Television ads were created to show how disgusting smoking was and how much a person lost in terms of health and fitness by smoking. Laws were passed to stop smoking in all public places. This was phased in gradually over a period of 5 to 10 years.
Currently it is now illegal to smoke a cigarette in a house or car where children are present. There is a $1,000 fine for purchasing cigarettes for kids under 18 years old.
The effect has been dramatic reducing the number of children who begin smoking at an early age.
If Russia follows its current path of legislation. The government has announced a plan to ban advertising and promotion of cigarettes from 2011 and to introduce a complete ban on smoking in enclosed spaces by 2015.
It will not be until 2035 when the country of Russia will be at the level of Canada and the United States in terms of stopping smoking.
With regards to the 20% increase in figures for women and children smokers these are the two easiest groups to influence. Women are particularly influenced to start smoking by making it look glamorous and themselves independent and successful. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The LEAST glamorous women are those who smoke. The LEAST unhealthy women are those who smoke. The most disgusting women that I can think of are those who are smoking a cigarette.
These images have now been firmly implanted in Western society. For the Russian government to be successful these same images need to be firmly planted in the Russian consciousness. Only then will women, men and children see who they have been used by tobacco companies to their own detriment.
Smoking is very addictive. The best way to stop is never to start. In my own family, anyone who smoked is now dead. Smoking easily takes 20 to 40 years off your life expectancy. (First hand experience.) It reduces your lung capacity, reduces your sensitivity to taste, reduces your immunity, and significantly reduces your ability to exercise.
Smoking is Russia's single most dangerous habit that affects its ability to defend itself. If 50% of your population is dying at any one time from smoking related cancers it just isn't good.
My big question for the Russian Government is this. If smoking causes 500,000 related deaths a year, then why are cigarettes not banned from Russia?
If Russia was engaged in an ongoing war and loosing 500,000 civilians a year, how would the public react? The Russian people and the Russian Government are at war with tobacco. Only this enemy is so seductive, so alluring, and so addictive that it makes you feel great and alive while at the same time it is killing you from the inside out.
It is only because of the seductive, alluring, and addictive nature of cigarettes that they have not been recognized as an enemy of the people of Russia. Taking 500,000 lives a year cigarettes are Russia's most virulent hostile enemy and this enemy is ironically widely accepted into Russia as a friend and benefactor of the people. Cigarettes are sold at every corner store without a second thought.
What country needs to drop a nuclear weapon on Russia when all they have to do is sell them 400 billion cigarettes a year and have the Russian people eagerly smoke them, get addicted, and then die from cancer. Eliminating a country's population has never been easier. In fact put out advertising that specifically targets susceptible Russian females and children thinking that they will look prettier, be more fertile, be more successful financially if they are smoking cigarettes. What a great way to decimate a population by destroying the females re-productivity and its children. The whole idea is ingenious and the Russian people fell for it hook line and sinker.
By the way where does Russia get its cigarettes from?
Got a cigarette? I promise you that it will make you look more beautiful, more sexy, more healthy, more vigorous, more productive, more wealthy, and more independent. Don't believe it for a second.