In March, the Public Council for positive development of young people, Your Choice, launched a program to prevent tobacco smoking among people under 18. The duties of the program's representatives are to organize education seminars, hold roundtable discussions on smoking prevention among young people and test cigarette vendors' knowledge of smoking control legislation. The program will be active in Yekateriburg in the Urals, Novosibirsk and Irkutsk in Siberia, Vladivostok in the Far East and Kazan and Volgograd in the Volga region.
"It is an open secret that Russia has become a "tobacco power" and is the third largest producer of tobacco in the world after China and the U.S.," said Nikolai Gerasimenko, the head of the Your Choice Public Council and deputy chairman of the State Duma healthcare committee. According to Mr. Gerasimenko, the tobacco market continues to grow: in 1996 Russia produced 141 billion cigarettes, last year this figure amounted to 330 billion cigarettes and in 2004 Russia will produce 380 billion cigarettes. Five of the seven corporations that dominate the tobacco market are foreign.
Over 40 million people in Russia are addicted to nicotine. According to the Healthcare Ministry, about 65% of Russian men and 20% of women are heavy smokers. "Smoking is one of the reasons why men in Russia often die before 60," emphasized Galina Tkachenko, the director of the anti-smoking coordination center of the Healthcare Ministry. Ms. Tkachenko was member of the inter-departmental working group to work out a framework convention of the World Health Organization to combat smoking. "The mortality rate of tobacco related diseases is 30% in men. This destructive habit causes and aggravates such serious diseases as lung cancer, heart disease, blood stroke, hypertension."
A smoking epidemic is spreading among young people in Russia. Every tenth high school student is addicted to nicotine. Girls are increasingly taking up smoking: according to the ministry, 16% of 16-17 year old girls smoke regularly. Shops and tobacco kiosks continue to sell cigarettes to minors, which is a violation of the law "On Control of Tobacco Smoking" that came into force in 2002.
The smoking epidemic in Russia was whipped up by two factors: economic problems of the 1990s and opening of the borders. "People believed that smoking helped them relax, distracted them from the financial troubles and problems of finding work that they faced at that time," Ms. Tkachenko said. "The increased demand for cigarettes was met at once. Foreign tobacco products flooded Russia". By opening its borders, Russia became a new, promising market for international cigarette producers.
"We need consistent educational work with children and young people. For example, it is necessary to supply schools with books and leaflets that explain the consequences smoking has on your health," Ms. Tkachenko emphasized. "So far such materials are not published in sufficient amounts. Maybe it would be sensible to follow the lead of Sweden, where they have a moral police that efficiently solves the problem of teenage smoking."
"An efficient fight against smoking is impossible without the participation of society, as it is necessary to create an unequivocally negative attitude toward the notion," Ms. Tkacehnko pointed out. "Society should create unfavorable conditions for smokers. The experience of the U.S., Canada and France, where smokers are discriminated against, may be useful."
However, the state continues to play the important role in the matter. Unfortunately, there have been no shifts in Russian laws toward prevention of the smoking epidemic. The law "On Control of Tobacco Smoking" was written under pressure from tobacco producers and the advertising industry. Naturally, they hindered the adoption of clauses prohibiting distribution and advertisement of cigarettes.
"We rest large hopes with the framework convention on the fight against smoking that the World Health Organization adopted," Ms. Tkachenko added. The WHO member states that have joined the convention, including Russia, have to prohibit or strictly limit direct and indirect advertisement of tobacco and tobacco products in any form within five years. The document also calls for preventative measures against cigarette smuggling and restriction of duty-free trade in cigarettes. The convention also supports the prohibition of smoking in indoor public places, raising tobacco prices and distributing health warnings.