Russia to ban smoking in public places from June under Putin's plans to make citizens healthier and help the economy

By ALEX WARD | 26 February 2013

• The legislation will also restrict cigarette sales and ban advertising of events by tobacco companies.

• Some 40 per cent of all Russians smoke regularly and 400,000 die every year.

• Foreign tobacco firms, who control 90% of the Russian cigarette market, oppose the ban.

Russia will ban smoking in many public places under President Vladimir Putin’s plans to make citizens healthier, live longer and help the economy.

In the nation with one of the world's highest smoking rates, the law, signed by Putin on Saturday and passed by parliament last week, will mean smoking will gradually be banned at work, in the subway, restaurants, cafes, ships and long-distance trains from June. 

The legislation will also restrict cigarette sales and ban advertising and sponsorship of events by tobacco companies.

It was opposed by foreign firms such as British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco, Japan Tobacco, and Philip Morris, which control more than 90 per cent of a Russian cigarette market which is worth about £13.2 billion annually.

Putin's aim is to force millions of Russians to make a lifestyle change in a country where bars and restaurants are often filled with a thick haze of smoke.  Some 40 per cent of Russians smoke regularly, according to the World Bank.

In a sign that many will resist, smokers rights' groups oppose the law and a website has sprung up which, in a nod to Russia's Communist past, declares: ‘Smokers of the world unite.’

Grigory, a 60-year-old businessman in Moscow who declined to give his second name, said: ‘I'm categorically against this stupid ban. Smoking is heavily restricted now anyway. No smoking in offices, no smoking in staircases, nowhere.

‘I'll go out even less now as there's nowhere to go for us chain-smokers.’

The law will be phased in, with smoking banned in some public places, such as subways and schools from June 1. It will then be broadened to include restaurants and cafes a year later.

Sales of tobacco products will be forbidden at street kiosks from June 1, 2014, advertising and displaying cigarettes will be restricted, and minimum prices will be set for cigarettes which mostly cost 50 to 60 rubles for a pack of 20 (less than £1.30).

Owners of the ubiquitous kiosks, which many convenience shoppers rely on, say many could go out of business, especially as they have already been hit by restriction on alcohol sales.

The law is part of Putin's drive to reverse a population decline that began after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. He hopes it will increase productivity and promote economic growth.

Putin stepped up these efforts since his return to the presidency in May, mounting a campaign reminiscent of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's attempt to crack down on drinking under his failed ‘perestroika’ reforms of the late 1980s.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said last year almost 400,000 Russians die each year from smoking-related causes. 

World Bank figures show Russia's population slumped to 141.9 million in 2011 from 148.6 million in 1991, with average life expectancy at 69 years, against 78 in the United States. Failure to expand the workforce would limit economic growth.

Announcing Putin had signed the law, the Kremlin said on Monday it would bring Russia into line with a World Health Organization tobacco control treaty which it ratified in 2008.

The All-Russian Smokers' Rights Movement said the law would not work and called instead for moves to discourage youngsters from starting smoking.

Erik Bloomquist, an analyst at Berenberg Bank, said: ‘In aggregate... we do not expect the restrictions to make much difference in overall consumption or prevalence, and think the smoking bans will be honoured more in the breach than in actuality.’

He said increases planned in excise taxes were likely to have a bigger impact on consumption.

The move is a blow to Japan Tobacco, in which the Japanese government plans to sell about a third of its stake.

Like other tobacco companies, it said it would abide by the law but several firms said the law could increase illicit trade.

Alexander Lioutyi, Corporate Affairs Director, BAT Russia said: ‘Implementation of sales restrictions accompanied by the extensive year-on-year growth of excise in Russia may lead to a massive inflow of cheaper products from neighbouring states.’

Last week Russia's Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky said tough laws similar to the smoking ban should be used to crack down on over-eating and 'excessive' sex.

The senior Russian political leader said the smoking laws do not go far enough - and should tackle obesity and sex too.

Mr Zhirinovsky told local radio: 'We need eating restrictions. Our people are overfed and too fat.'

He said Russian people die earlier than the rest of the world because they eat and smoke excessively and have too much sex.

Under his plans, people would be issued with a voucher giving them permission to make love just once every three months.

'Sex should be restricted to one time per quarter through issuing licenses, quotas or coupons,' he explained.