MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Fedyashin) - Since 1988, World No Tobacco Day is held every May 31 on the initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO).
EU analysts estimate that on that day the number of smokers in the Old World declines by 10%-15%. However, Western Europe is probably the only region to show such a tough stance on smoking, while the rest of the world either ignores this problem altogether or declares openly that it will not break the habit.
Although World No Tobacco Day aims to focus public attention on the fact that smoking is a major health hazard, the WHO and other concerned agencies have accomplished little in this sphere.
We advise our readers to go out on May 31 and to see how many smokers are there. Anyone who comes to Russia or any other former Soviet republic will be in for a big surprise. Those going to China or India will be horrified and will realize that World No Tobacco Day is something far-fetched.
The WHO has selected "Tobacco Health Warnings" as the theme for the upcoming World No Tobacco Day. Tobacco health warnings containing both pictures and words appear on packs of cigarettes and are among the strongest defenses against the global epidemic of tobacco. Although only a dozen countries have adopted such verbal and pictorial warnings to date, the WHO wants to spread them to the rest of the world.
Tobacco health warnings are probably the only way to influence incorrigible smokers, as well as tobacco and cigarette manufacturers, national governments, ministries of finance and tax agencies.
The WHO lacks the leverage to increase tobacco excise tax and to reduce budgetary proceeds. Such measures are just about the only way to conduct successful anti-smoking campaigns. However, smokers are often unable to quit of their own accord. Moreover, tobacco and cigarette companies will never stop manufacturing their products containing nicotine, a narcotic and psychotropic substance, unless forced to do so.
It appears that tobacco health warnings are a sign of despair. Although this will now be the twenty-first World No Tobacco Day, the ranks of smokers continue to swell. The WHO estimates that global tobacco consumption has soared by 20% since 2003, primarily in Africa and Asia, which have been targeted by transnational tobacco companies over the last nine years.
China leads the global smoking spree. Right now, 350 million Chinese citizens, or about 33% of the country's population, are smokers. Imagine seven countries the size of France, whose entire population, including men, women, children and infants, simultaneously inhales tobacco smoke.
China, which accounts for 30% of the world's smokers, is followed by India with 13%, or 238 million smokers. Indonesia, Russia and the United States account for 5-6% and have surged ahead of Japan, Brazil, Bangladesh, Germany and Turkey. Two-thirds of the world's smokers live in the above countries.
Although Russia has the world's fourth largest smoker population, smokers account for 40% of Russians (men account for 65% and women, 20%), exceeding the share of Chinese smokers. Russia ranks third in terms of tobacco production after China and the United States, where 24.5% of the population smoke.
In 1985, Russia produced 201 billion cigarettes, expanding production to 414 billion in 2006 and outpacing Japan. However, China and the United States have 1.3 billion and 300 million populations, respectively, while the 140 million Russians have to content themselves with low-quality cigarettes.
Russia makes the cheapest cigarettes in the industrial world. A pack that costs $8 in the United States or Canada is sold for a dollar here, while filterless cigarettes, the notorious Russian papirosy, cost less than 30 cents a pack. About 400,000 Russians annually die from smoking-related diseases, as contrasted with 100,000 deaths in road accidents nationwide.
In April 2008, Russia signed the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control involving 172 UN member-states by that time. The Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, has submitted a bill stipulating a smoking ban in all public places. Considering the huge army of Russian smokers and an invisible, albeit extremely powerful tobacco lobby, the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, is unlikely to pass it anytime soon.
All EU countries, except members of the former communist bloc, have already banned smoking in offices, restaurants, bars, cafes and government agencies. The ban will eventually cover all new EU members.
Those who love fresh air should go to the landlocked Kingdom of Bhutan in South Asia. In 2005, Bhutan completely banned smoking and tobacco imports. Smoking is completely prohibited in Bhutan.
However, Cameroon, Chad and the Central African Republic encourage smoking anywhere.
Contrary to a widespread opinion, the U.S. government has not declared a federal ban on smoking in public places. Only 25 states have banned smoking on the local level. In 12 more states, adults are allowed to smoke in bars, restaurants and casinos. Although some municipal councils have banned smoking in 13 remaining states, no federal smoking ban is envisaged there.
The WHO estimates that at least five million will die from tobacco-related causes throughout 2009 worldwide, and that this figure will reach 8-10 million by 2020, unless smokers' ranks are reduced. Smoking may claim a billion lives in the 21st century.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.