Russian Public Enthusiastic about Tobacco Control as Health Leaders Meet

April 27, 2011

Health ministers from around the world are meeting in Moscow this week to discuss the growing global health threat from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cancer and heart disease.  Russia’s severe tobacco epidemic makes it a case study in NCDs.  The good news is that the Russian public strongly supports effective solutions:  Eight in ten Russians — including nearly two-thirds of daily smokers — support a national tobacco control policy to help reduce tobacco use.

Tobacco use is a risk factor for all major categories of non-communicable diseases—heart disease, cancer, chronic respiratory disease, and diabetes.  These illnesses now cause two out of three deaths worldwide.

In Russia, where Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has called smoking a 'calamity' for national health, as many as 400,000 people die each year from smoking. Russia has one of the highest male smoking rates in the world (60 percent of men smoke) and a very high rate of youth smoking: 27 percent of boys and 24 percent of girls age 13-15 smoke.

Putin has called for a comprehensive tobacco control strategy that includes smoke-free public places, a ban on advertising and steep tax hikes. These actions would help Russia fulfill its obligations under the international tobacco control treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.  A draft bill to implement this strategy faces fierce opposition from the international tobacco companies that dominate the Russian market.

The Russian people support strong action.  Recent polling shows that:

  • 86 percent of Russians support a ban on tobacco advertising
  • 85 percent support funding for tobacco-prevention programs
  • 81 percent want stronger health warnings on cigarette packs
  • 82 percent support prohibiting smoking entirely in public places including workplaces, restaurants and bars

In addition, 70 percent support increasing the price of tobacco products — including taxing them more heavily — as a way to reduce smoking.

The poll results defy tobacco industry fear mongering that suggests there might be social disturbances if 'sin' taxes on tobacco or alcohol are raised, or that Russians simply aren’t ready for sweeping changes.

They are.

The Russian Parliament, which is to vote on the comprehensive tobacco-control plan this year, should give it a robust Da!

Image source: Social Advertising in Russia