Nikolai Gerasimenko, deputy chairman of the State Duma (parliament's lower house) health protection committee, said, "Every year smoking kills five million people worldwide, and from 300,000 to 500,000 in Russia."
Gerasimenko said that by 2020 the annual death toll from tobacco-related diseases was expected to reach 10 million people worldwide.
About 50 million Russians, or more than one third of the country's population, smoke. Among adults, the figure is 63%, and 50% among adolescents.
The parliamentarian said several factors, primarily commercial, were to blame for Russia's failure to ratify the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control within the World Health Organization (WHO), signed by 168 countries in May 2003.
"On the Russian wholesale market, some Russian cigarettes cost four rubles (about 14 cents) a pack, cheaper than bread or milk, whereas in Germany and Norway, for example, a pack of cigarettes costs 11 euros (about $13). That is because we [Russia] have the world's lowest excise duty."
Gerasimenko said parliamentarians had raised the issue with the government three times, advocating the signing of the convention, with no success. "We are drafting a petition to the president," he added.
The WHO is currently holding its first session on tobacco control in Geneva, but Russia has only been allowed observer status since it has not ratified the convention.