A bill will be introduced to the Russian legislature later this year that over the next several years will impose many of the same restrictions on smoking as in the United States and elsewhere throughout the world. In fact, Russia intends to go even further than most, stopping just short of a total ban.
The restrictions, which include high taxation, graphic warnings about the dangers of smoking, the banning of sponsorships and most ads, and restrictions on where tobacco can be sold or used (tobacco could only be sold in large supermarkets and could not actively be displayed as being for sale), would bring Russia into compliance with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Currently, 174 countries are party to the convention and 168 are signatory; the most recent party is St. Kitts and Nevis. The United States, while progressing along the path, remains non-party along with 20 other nations.
10 have signed but not ratified: Argentina, Cuba, Czech Republic, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Haiti, Morocco, Mozambique, Switzerland and the United States.
11 others did not sign or ratify; the deadline to sign was June 29, 2004: Andorra, Dominican Republic, Eritrea, Indonesia, Liechtenstein, Malawi, Monaco, Somalia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe.
40% of Russia's population smokes, with 400,000 deaths in Russia per year being blamed on smoking. And while the ban is welcome among most everyone else, questions arise as to how stringently it will be enforced, given Russia's poor reputation for corruption. According to one Russian blogger quoted in the Moscow News, "In order to have doubts, one only has to walk through any train, where anyone who feels like it smokes right under the ‘no smoking’ signs. It is not a question of how heavy the punishment is, but of its inevitability. And we don’t have that. Who will enforce the law? The cops, of whom 99 per cent smoke like chimneys?”
Meanwhile in America, holdouts are getting creative. Reports indicate a rise in roll-your-own-tobacco stores, where a smoker dumps loose tobacco into a machine which then rolls it into cigarettes, one at a time. (One such store recently opened here in Watertown; I am not giving them free advertising.) Not only do they get the cigarettes, they get them cheaper, as roll-your-own-tobacco stores don't carry the high taxes prerolled cigarettes do. The anti-tobacco fight, as a result, is shifting towards closing that loophole; Arkansas banned roll-your-own-tobacco machines in April and more states are expected to follow.
Nobody said quitting smoking was easy.