Russia plans to ban tobacco advertising and raise taxes on cigarettes

A bill aims to ban tobacco advertising and raise taxes on cigarettes in a country where 400,000 people die each year of smoking-related causes

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 October, 2012, 3:40am

Russia is cracking down on smoking with a bill to ban tobacco advertising and raise taxes on cigarettes to help tackle a public health crisis in the world's second largest tobacco market after China.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said 44 million Russians - nearly one in three - were hooked and almost 400,000 die every year of smoking-related causes.

Under Health Ministry proposals, tobacco advertising - now only allowed in some print media - would be outlawed, taxes increased on cigarette sales and smoking in cafes and other public spaces eventually banned, he said.

The bill is expected to be submitted to parliament for approval in coming days.

"Every year [the equivalent of] a large city disappears," Medvedev said. "The government has adopted an anti-tobacco strategy and today we are beginning to put it in place."

The habit of lighting up in Russia, where the air in bars, coffee shops and stairways is thick with smoke, is encouraged by the cheap price of cigarettes. A pack typically costs 50 to 60 roubles (up to HK$15).

While President Vladimir Putin is a non-smoker and has reprimanded ministers for smoking, some other top officials, such as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, are heavy smokers.

Some people on Moscow streets doubted that the measures would have any effect. "People will smoke no matter what. It's Russia," said one salesman.

The government hopes the legislation will help improve life expectancy, which at 62 for men and 74 for women in 2009 remains low by the standards of other middle-income countries.

The Russian cigarette market was estimated to be worth US$22 billion in 2011.

Four foreign tobacco companies - Japan Tobacco International, Phillip Morris, British American Tobacco, and Imperial Tobacco - control more than 90 per cent of Russian sales and have been lobbying to soften the proposed legislation.

The bill would probably become law next spring if submitted to parliament by November 1, Nikolai Gerasimenko, deputy chairman of the State Duma's health committee, said.

The Finance Ministry previously announced plans to increase the excise duty on tobacco 40 per cent for 2013 and 2014. On Tuesday it said it planned to raise taxes 10 per cent a year after 2015.

Kiosk owners and workers have signed a petition against the proposed ban on sales by vendors. They say many kiosks, which provide work for one million people, could be forced out of business. "Our customers will continue to buy cigarettes, but they will get them from bigger shops, where it's easier to buy everything at once," petition co-ordinator Vladlen Maximov said.