Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev this week vowed to crack down on smoking in his country and promised that the government would soon pass extremely strict antismoking legislation.
The antismoking bill, which is due to be voted on next month, would ban all smoking in public places by 2015. Cigarette advertising would be banned immediately. The bill would also place strict limits on where cigarettes could be sold.
In a video blog posted on his website, Medvedev said that nearly one in three Russian citizens are hooked on cigarettes, at least 90 percent of which come from foreign manufacturers such as Japan Tobacco and Philip Morris. Russia is the world's second largest cigarette market and smoking there has increased 51 percent since foreign companies entered the market, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Medvedev said that 400,000 Russians die each year from smoking-related illnesses. Last year Bloomberg News compiled health data from the World Health Organization, revealing that Russia was 97th out of 145 nations, mostly due to unhealthy behaviors like smoking and drinking but also due to limited access to health care and lack of exercise.
Russia instituted high taxes on cigarettes and alcohol last year, which will take effect in 2014. The taxes increased the average price of a pack of Marlboros to $2, still well below the price in other countries, according to data compiled by the Washington Post. The new bill would add to the efforts to reduce alcohol and cigarette consumption in the country, which has been ranked as one the world's least healthy. Another bill before parliament would increase those taxes even more.
According to Bloomberg Businessweek, the four foreign cigarette manufacturers have been fighting to weaken the bill. Changes they are requesting include allowing bars and restaurants to set up smoking sections and placing fewer restrictions on where cigarettes can be sold. Tens of thousands of kiosk owners who sell cigarettes on street corners have also signed a petition against the new bill, saying it could drive them out of business and destroy jobs for 1 million people, according to a report from Business Insider.
Medvedev is undeterred. He says smoking costs Russia more than $48 billion in health costs and productivity losses every year.
"Every year (the equivalent population of) a large city disappears from the map due to tobacco use," Medvedev said in his video blog. "I am convinced that this bill is in the interest of the people of our country."
The Russian people, for whom smoking is part of their culture, seem less convinced. "People will smoke no matter what; it's Russia," one man told Business Insider.