In 2008, Russia joined the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and committed itself to the gradual fulfillment of the relevant obligations. This year, the Ministry of Healthcare of the Russian Federation drafted the bill On the Protection of Public Health from the Impact of Environmental Tobacco Smoke and the Effects of Tobacco Use after it had calculated that about 40 percent of the country’s adult population (44 million people) smokes. Approximately 400,000 Russians die from smoking-related diseases every year.
Most anti-tobacco measures will come into force on June 1, 2013. This summer, smoking will be banned in public places, including hospitals, production facilities, public transport, suburban trains and government offices. A 50-foot-wide smoke-free area will be delineated around subway and railway stations, as well as at airports. Residents of apartment buildings will no longer be able to “light up” in stairwells and lifts unless the property owner equips the building with a special ventilated “smoking area.”
Starting on June 1, 2014, smoking will also be banned in hotels, restaurants, cafes and bars, on passenger train services and long-distance sea journeys, and at commuter rail platforms. Cigarettes will not be available at railway stations and airports (except in duty-free).
As for public catering facilities, there is no doubt that the law will have the biggest impact on bars and music venues that sell alcohol. “Restaurants, where people usually spend quite a lot of time, will hardly notice any difference,” Yelena Doguzova, director of two Moscow restaurants called Prostye Veshchi (Simple Things), says. “In contrast, those places where people go for a quick drink and smoke may lose customers.”
In regards to long-distance trains, it is unclear what passengers should do on a two-day trip from Moscow to Siberia, for example. “Prohibiting smoking on long-distance trains is next to impossible,” says Galina Padysheva, a 55-year-old journalist and smoker for over 30 years. “I simply cannot imagine a smoker capable of surviving several days without a single cigarette. So, that will be another source of income for train conductors, who can always turn a blind eye to the ubiquitous smoking in train vestibules.”
Retailers may also be reluctant to abide by the law, as banning the sale of tobacco products in kiosks will strip them of their most lucrative business. Shops and special booths will be the only remaining places that sell tobacco after 2014. Moreover, cigarettes will no longer be openly displayed at counters, as they will be replaced by a pricelist.
In addition, minimum and maximum prices will be set for tobacco products. Cigarette ads will be banned, as well as attempts to attract customers with discounts or special offers. The statute further stipulates that new children’s films and cartoons should be free of any scenes involving smoking. However, old Soviet cartoons will be spared this fate, so the Wolf in the famous “Nu, Pogodi!” (“Just You Wait!”) series will be allowed to smoke. Characters in films aimed at adult audiences may only smoke if “it constitutes an integral part of the artistic design.”
Nonetheless, according to Russian Anti-Tobacco Coalition co-chair Darya Khalturina, tobacco lobbyists managed to make the law less stringent than officials had hoped. For instance: the minimum price of cigarettes will be set de facto by tobacco companies and not the government; duty-free shops have been exempted from the ban; the new law does not apply to tobacco products that are not smoked, such as snuff and chewing tobacco; and the digital cigarette sale tracking system will be based on the data provided by tobacco manufacturers, which are the usual suspects in cases involving counterfeit goods.
Despite all this, the law has, in general, been received very positively. “The key victory for the Ministry of Healthcare was the introduction of “smoke-free” programs for public spaces. According to best global practices, this measure alone can reduce the number of heart attacks by 15 percent, while removing cigarettes from display counters can bring teenage smoking rates down by 10-15 percent,” says Khalturina.
It is noteworthy that most Russians disapprove of a total ban on smoking in public places. A Levada Center survey has revealed that about 70 percent of Russian citizens support partial restrictions instead of a complete ban. In particular, 16 percent of respondents believe smoking should be prohibited in bars, while 17 percent hold the same opinion with regard to restaurants. About 73 percent of respondents only want to limit smoking, whereas 10 percent think cigarettes should be allowed in bars and 7 percent are in favor of smoking in restaurants.