Russian Barbarians smoke themselves into the Grave

Radio Free Europe reports:

Five minutes on Moscow’s streets would be enough to convince any visitor that smoking is a way of life here. Every second person seems to be holding a cigarette.

Waiting to cross the street at a traffic light, cigarette in hand, Sergei Golikov says people should feel free to light up wherever they want.

“It’s everyone’s personal decision,” he says. “If he wants to smoke fine, if not, fine. No one’s forcing anyone to do it.”

Russia has one of the world’s highest smoking rates. The government says 44 million Russians smoke. That’s a third of the population, including more than 60 percent of all males.

It’s having a major effect on the country’s health. Up to 400,000 Russians die each year from tobacco-related causes. But as health campaigns in the West encourage growing numbers of smokers to give up the habit, Russia is becoming increasingly important for international tobacco firms, and the number of Russia’s newest smokers — women and teenagers — is skyrocketing.


Restaurants and bars are thick with smoke because there are no laws governing smoking in public establishments, even though the head of the government’s consumer protection agency calls smoking “genocide,” in a country where the population is shrinking and the average male life expectancy is only 59 years.

The Kremlin admits Russia is facing a demographic crisis, and has made tackling the problem one of its biggest priorities. But Dmitry Yanin, chairman of the nonprofit Consumer Societies Confederation, says the authorities seriously underestimate the threat from smoking.

“It’s one of the most serious factors contributing to low life expectancies,” he says, “and it’s worsening the quality of life for tens of millions of people.”

Russia is the world’s second-largest tobacco market. Yanin says that’s because the government has enacted no significant antismoking measures since the fall of communism, when Western firms flooded into Russia.

Three companies now dominate 95 percent of the market: British and American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International, and Philip Morris International, the world’s largest tobacco company. Russia is Philip Morris’s biggest market.

Cheaper Than A Chocolate Bar

While other countries have raised taxes to get people to stop smoking, Russia’s have remained low, enabling tobacco companies to generate huge profits by keeping prices down.

Olga Knorre of the U.S.-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids says packs of Western cigarettes in Russia can cost as little as $0.50, compared to around $10 in some European countries.

“It’s a lot easier for a child to buy a packet of cigarettes than a chocolate bar,” she says.

Knorre says tobacco companies are now aggressively targeting women and teenagers. Around 15 percent of women smoke, twice more than in the early 1990s, and the number is steadily growing.

“You see mostly women’s cigarettes behind store counters,” she says. “They’re thin, carry deceiving labels saying they’re less harmful, and come in different flavors and bright packages.”

Television and billboard advertising for cigarettes has been banned, but Knorre says ads in magazines and on the subway attract young smokers by depicting the habit as part of a glamorous way of life. She says tobacco company-sponsored events at nightclubs and elsewhere sometimes distribute cigarettes free.

Tobacco Lobby

Last year, antitobacco activists praised the Kremlin for signing on to the World Heath Organization’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The international treaty calls for raising taxes, banning cigarette advertising and smoking in public spaces, and putting warning labels on cigarette packaging.

Those measures have been effective at lowering smoking rates in other countries, but critics say Moscow has dragged its feet implementing them.

They say that’s partly because the tobacco industry has stopped parliament and the government from enacting major smoking restrictions since serious legislation was first debated in the 1990s. Those measures were introduced by parliament member Nikolai Gerasimenko, who says tobacco lobbyists benefit from a tradition in which even Russians who don’t smoke have a high tolerance for smoking.

“There’s no antismoking culture here,” Gerasimenko says. “Many doctors smoke, so do members of parliament, and they don’t want to limit their own freedom.”

Philip Morris, which produces such brands as Marlboro and Parliament, rejects accusations it’s doing anything wrong. Elena Barsukova of the company’s Moscow office denies the Russian government is endangering lives by failing to conform to the WHO framework convention.

“The government should exercise its sovereign right to regulate tobacco in compliance with its policies,” she says.

Bleak Outlook

Barsukova says Philip Morris’s lobbying is a normal part of the democratic process.

But Dmitry Yanin disagrees, saying tobacco companies use their massive wealth to curry favor with officials:

“How democratic is it,” he says, “when Philip Morris gives more than $50,000 to a charity headed by the finance minister’s wife?”

Some say the situation is so dire, it will force change. That includes legislator Gerasimenko, who says there’s growing political will to enact smoking restrictions. He’s helping draw up new regulations he hopes the government will adopt to make Russia conform with the WHO’s framework convention, including by raising cigarette taxes three times and banning outdoor kiosks from selling cigarettes.

But Yanin isn’t optimistic. He says tobacco companies will step up their efforts in Russia as they continue to lose markets in the West. And the government, he says, is far too interested in benefitting from tobacco profits. “No one wants to harm a $15 billion market,” he says.


15 responses to “Russian Barbarians smoke themselves into the Grave

  1. If Johnson and Johnson gets there, they’ll start a major banning movement to boost their sales, just like they’re doing everywhere else.

  2. How about marijuana?

    Do they smoke the gangi in Russia?

    How much does it cost?

  3. It’s hardly unique to Russia. When Ukraine tried to pass stringent anti-tobacco laws Phillip-Morris ran all over them. The worst I’ve seen is Armenia. The air is so thick with tobacco smoke that even the outdoors in Yerevan positively reeks of it.

    • Hmm, so Russia, Ukraine and Armenia are all the same. Think that makes the Russians feel better about things? We doubt it. We think it probably makes them feel much worse, as it should. Russia doesn’t aspire to be Ukraine, though maybe that’s where its expectations should reasonably lie.

      And let’s not forget that no matter how bad Ukraine or Armenia might be, at least they’re benign. They don’t go around attacking their tiny neighbors to seize their territory, and they don’t pretend to be qualified for membership in civilized groups like the G-8. Nor do they embrace paranoid fantasies about foreign enemies as Russians do, when in fact the real enemy of the Russian people IS the Russian people, as the facts reported here clearly show.

  4. Cigarettes are so cheap over here you’re LOSING money if you don’t smoke.

  5. Russians are very proud that they do all things which are seen as unhealthy in the West. Smoking, hard drinking, drinking and driving, drinking and flying planes etc.

    Russians love to say “What is good for a Russian is killing a German”

    Well, I’m German and I’m happy that in our country, the average life expectancy is slightly higher than in Russia.

    • @Russians are very proud that they do all things which are seen as unhealthy in the West. Smoking, hard drinking, drinking and driving, drinking and flying planes etc.

      The most amazing thing how much many of them can’t wait (or pretend they can’t wait) for a nuclear war.

      In the United States the DEFCON 1 was a nightmare scenario, the Japanese are still trumatized, yet in Russia apparently it was (and remains) a subject of many, many wet dreams and masturbatory fantasies involving phallic missiles, men in uniform and Putin with his shirt off.

  6. georgia worse than russia.

    • Not really, while a lot of people do smoke in Georgia, the government has introduced warnings on the cigarette packets, and the Church actively tries to discourage smoking (unlike Russia where the Russian church sells cigarettes)

  7. “Russian barbarians smoke themselves into the grave”

    What a revolting title. This blog is clearly written by someone with a pathological hatred of Russia bordering on racism.

    Intelligent analysts who are by no means at all ‘apologists’ for Putin are a better read e.g Anatol Lieven.

    Most of the comments left by La Russophobe are misinformed, even mindblowingly dumb in their lack of nuance and tedious monomania.

    Putin is not “Neo-Soviet” any more than those in Estonia are particulary “Neo-Nazi” for ripping down the Bronze Soldier in Tallinn in 2007, though that was an act of aggressive nationalism.

    The hypocrisy and double standards rife on on this site. The virulent nationalism of Saakashvili, his rigged elections, torture, repression of opponents is not mentioned.

    For they do not fit into the rigid propaganda mould.

    Nor is the simple fact that Georgia attacked South Ossetia in August 2008 raining down death and destruction of Tskhinvali as its residents slept.

    Petty nationalistic bile of the kind peddled on this doltish site does not acheive anything other than to demonstrate how unpleasant some people can be.

    • Are you a clueless useful idiot, or just a plain kremlin propagandist?

    • Well Karl, living in Georgia, I have not seen any evidence of “torture, repression of opponents is not mentioned” you mentioned, in fact opposition supporters are able to openly protest, voice their complaints, appear on TV and in print media, and even hurl abuse at the presidents mother without fear of retribution.

      As for “Nor is the simple fact that Georgia attacked South Ossetia in August 2008 raining down death and destruction of Tskhinvali as its residents slept”

      So you think it was OK for the Russian backed separatists to rain down mortar and artillery fire on the pro Georgian villages in the weeks leading up to Georgia’s “over reaction” (note that the Council of Europe report stated that Georgia had every right to retaliate, but they should have used less force).

      Did you actually read the report?

      It is far more damning of Russia and the ethnic cleansing scum who run Abkhazia and South Ossetia than it is of the Georgians.

  8. Andrew,

    Have you ever though both sides might be as bad as each other but Georgia is simply given the benefit of the doubt because it’s government id pro-Western and it fits in with geopolitical interests?

    Cherry picking the EU report, a la Svante Cornell, is not going to win the case for one dimensional anti-Russian monomaniacs playing their pathological power games.

    The objective facts are clear. Russia had made it clear that if Georgia attacked South Ossetia, it would respond with force. Georgia broke the ceasefire and Russia responded.

    There was nothing surprising about Russian policy. It was consistent on that for a decade as Anatol Lieven has correctly maintained. To pretend this is a ‘resurgent Russia’ is nonsense.

    Saakashvili’s reasons are still debatable but a diversionary war was one way of shoring up his diminishing support base. Saakashvili has restricted media ( eg Imedi TV ).

    Protesters in November 2007 were fired on by Western equipped police in Tblisi and opponents have been killed in mysterious circumstances.

    No crowd has been fired on in Russia or even Belarus. The hired NGO demonstrators paid by the West would be right on cue to get the global media spotlight on it if it did.

    But, of course, the Orwellian doublethink requires that facts that do not fit in with the Western narrative are confined to the memory hole or screened from perception.

    On ethnic cleansing, that has happened on both sides. Georgian forces did it in 1991 which does not make it right for South Ossetians to do it now.

    The point is that only ethnic cleansing done by nationalist forces that do not fit in with Western geopolitics is seen as bad whilst that done by others is routinely ignored.

    Yje same hypocrisy was evident on Kosovo. The ethnic cleansing by Thaci’s thuggish narco traffickers, the KLA, of some 250,000 Serbs and Sinti in 1999 was not “genocide”.

    For Kosovo was to become a NATO protectorate and the USA wanted to remodel and micromanage small Balkan client states as part of the Long War to extend pipelines and project power into Eurasia.

    The utter lack of realism by the West on Saakashvili as well as the ever more shrill chorus of Russophobe’s fulminating about Georgia is stupid and counter-productive.

    The casualties of the war started by Saakashvili are mostly his responsibility. Launching grad rockets on the sleeping city of Tskhanvali is a war crime.

    The subsequent revenge attacks by South Ossetian militias again points to the bungling idiocy and the dangers inherent in Saakashvili’s warmongering.

    No matter how it is spun, he attacked South Ossetia and Russia took the actions it stated it would should Georgia ever do what it did on August 8 2008.

    No doubt Saakashvili hoped he could fast track Georgia into NATO by ramping up the conflict to crisis point but it was delusive brinkmanship on his part.

  9. Can you tell me where you got that photo of the child smoking? I’d like to reproduce it in a book I’m writing.

    I appreciate your help.


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