Conflict & Justice

Smoking ban for Russia

Russia is set to implement a smoking ban. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is all for it, but many Russians don't think the ban will fly. Reporter Jessica Golloher has the story.

Player utilities

Listen to the Story.

The United States was one of the first countries to require that tobacco companies put health warnings on cigarettes. But the US lags behind others when it comes to the explicitness of its cigarette labels. But Washington now wants packs to include graphic images.

Russia, too, is trying to get tough on smoking, in a way. Moscow says it wants to follow western standards by limiting tobacco advertisements and banning smoking in public by 2015.

Russians aren't impressed. Forty-something security guard Nikolai Schlomo has been smoking two packs a day for nearly 30 years. He rolls his eyes and waves off Putin's plan as he smokes in his tiny one-room office.

�How could they ban smoking completely,� Schlomo asks. �That will never happen. There is smoking everywhere; all of Russia smokes!�

Schlomo isn't too far off. Nearly half a million Russian smokers die each year. More than half of women smoke here. Nearly 80 percent of men do. And why not? At about a buck, less than a bottle of water, cigarettes are a cheap fix. And this isn't a country where people are especially interested in their health. Think of the us circa the 1970s.

Sitting in his smoke-filled nightclub on a Tuesday afternoon, non-smoking expatriate Campbell Bethwaithe says there's no way Russia will be able to enforce any kind of smoking ban here.

�In Moscow, there's no requirement to have smoking/non-smoking sections. I think if there was enough demand or if enough of our customers were asking for a separate non-smoking section, we could certainly accommodate that. Anyone who does mention smoking is a foreigner.�

So if the average Russian doesn't even acknowledge the dangers of smoking, who supports a smoking ban? Well, there's the country's fitness buff prime minster.

Masha Gessen is editor at Snob Magazine in Moscow. She says she thinks Putin's idea to support the ban is absurd and doesn't know who else is even behind it.

�It's not much of a push. Maybe he went out to a Moscow restaurant maybe he smelled the smoke in the space as you would in any Moscow restaurant and thought �how disgusting' and decided to ban smoking in restaurants. We'll never know,� she said.. �But it's entirely plausible. It's not going to affect a lot of people. And unfortunately it's not going to do anything about smoking in this country.�

Even if Russian power brokers can push a smoking ban through the parliament, no one believes it would have much effect. Twenty-something smoker Lidia � she didn't want her last name used � said Russia is different from the west when it comes to rules. There's isn't really any government infrastructure to speak of, and Russians have had enough of crazy rules.

�They don't care. Because in the Soviet Union everything was banned and you had to follow the rules otherwise you'd get into prison or Siberia.�

Back in his office, security guard Nikolai Schlomo said he'll never quit.
�If the government does something stupid like ban cigarettes,� Schlomo said, �we'll just make our own, like we did during Gorbachev's time.�

In 1990, Russians did make their own after there was a domestic shortage. People in the country grew their own tobacco and then sold it to their neighbors and to people in the city. The deficit led to the so-called tobacco rebellion, forcing the government to ask for international tobacco shipments.