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Russia goes ahead with struggle against smoking delicately but persistently

October 14, 2014, 17:12 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
© ITAR-TASS/Dmitry Rogulin

MOSCOW, October 14. /TASS/. Russia is pushing ahead with its anti-tobacco crusade - delicately, so as not to abuse the rights of smokers, but nevertheless persistently. This is a vital need, because international experts still describe the situation in the country as a tobacco epidemic although the anti-tobacco law has begun to bear fruit.

Moscow was selected as the venue of the ongoing sixth session of the conference of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control for a good reason. “The choice in Moscow’s favour was made because the Russian government is really determined to stop the tobacco epidemic,” the chief of the WHO FCTC Secretariat, Vera Luiza Costa e Silva, said.

At a meeting with WHO Director-General Margaret Chan on Thursday Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the struggle against smoking in the country would go on. “We shall continue along the same path delicately, so as not to violate the right of people to their own choice,” he said.

Putin recalled that in 2010, according to an opinion poll, about 40% of Russia’s adults smoked. Over the past few years the rate has gone down by 16-17%, he said.

Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva said that according to her sources six in ten men and one in five women in Russia smoke. “The problem of passive smoking in Russia is very acute: adults smoke next to children, expectant mothers and sick people,” she told the online newspaper Gazeta.Ru. Smoking in Russia has not stopped to be socially acceptable yet.

Starting from 2008 Russia joined the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, and in 2010 it adopted a national anti-tobacco concept. As a result Russia last year enacted a special law for protecting the people from the harmful effects of tobacco smoke, which established some very harsh restrictions smokers have to abide by. The harsh anti-tobacco law, which has left smokers the sole chance of smoking outdoors or at home has drawn protests from the addicts to this harmful habit, who said that the restrictions on their rights were too harsh.

According to Rospotrebnadzor, the fines collected from those who abused the anti-tobacco law in the first half of this year totalled 27.6 million. In all, in January through June the watchdog has fined 5,500 breakers of the tobacco law. In the meantime, there is heavy evidence the law’s implementation is far from ideal and street police are often pretty lax towards smokers.

On June 1, when the second part of the anti-tobacco law took effect, a dozen bills were submitted to the State Duma for easing its requirements.

But the measures taken so far have worked: the law has brought about a reduction in the number of smokers by an estimated 8-16%.

The anti-tobacco law may be made still harsher and the taxes on tobacco may continue to go up, Russia’s Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova confirmed at the WHO FCTC conference on Thursday.

A considerable increase in excise duties on cigarettes is one of the recommendations issued by the WHO framework convention. Skvortsova said excise duties on tobacco in Russia were going up by 10% a year on the average, but the work on heavier tobacco taxes will go on.

According to international experts, a 10% hike in the prices of cigarettes in the industrialized countries brings about a 4% drop in tobacco consumption.

As for tighter anti-tobacco restrictions, Skvortsova said they had established a basis for the fundamental bans and measures, while the yet-to-be developed bylaws will merely expand the law’s operation.

Skvortsova did not disclose what extra measures might be taken, but proposals of the sort keep pouring in. A bill submitted to the State Duma just recently envisages a ban on smoking at bus stops and inside under-and over-passes.

The chief of the federal project Sober Russia, Sultan Khamzayev, is quoted by the government-published Rossiiskaya Gazeta as saying more bans will just make smokers very angry. “Many light up a cigarette at forbidden places on purpose. In this way they demonstrate their defiance of the law,” he said. “With the adoption of more restrictions there will be many more such people.”

Apparently, time is ripe to opt for a different policy, for instance, to focus on a comprehensive medical program to persuade smokers to quit the bad habit.

The first step has been taken: outpatient clinics are opening special rooms where specialists provide assistance to those who would like to quit smoking. However in most cases the treatment is confined to an advice to use anti-nicotine patch. This is surely not enough, Khamzayev said. Those who wish to abandon the bad habit need psychological assistance the most.


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