Russian police offer smokers lollipops to drop the habit

Russian police on Tuesday coaxed hardened smokers to kick the habit by offering lollipops in exchange for cigarettes at Moscow rail stations to mark World No Tobacco Day.

"The Russian police support a healthy lifestyle," a spokeswoman for Moscow transport police, Yelena Bobylkova, said as the campaign began at Yaroslavl mainline station.

Russia has one of the highest smoking rates among developed nations, with the growing numbers of women smoking raising particular concern.

Teams of three police - one carrying a bucket of water to snuff out cigarettes, another with a box of lollipops and a third carrying leaflets about the dangers of smoking - patrolled the station in search of smokers.

The stunt was to reinforce a smoking ban in suburban commuter trains, Bobylkova said.

Surprised by policemen brandishing lollipops in front of television cameras, most smokers meekly threw their cigarettes into the buckets of water and studied the anti-smoking pamphlets.

"May 31 is the day when you must say no to tobacco. Forever," one leaflet said.

Some smokers murmured they would try, but others were less convinced.

"I won't give up smoking until they stop selling cigarettes," said Ivan Mityaikin, 30.

Pensioner Yury Nosakov, 65, praised the campaign.

"They should organise this more often. I gave up smoking 30 years ago. Neither my children nor my grandchildren smoke. I am proud of that," he told AFP.

The Russian government recently introduced large warnings of impotency and death on cigarette packs, but the packs cost just around 40 rubles (one euro) each and smoking is allowed in almost all restaurants and bars.

Six out of 10 Russian men smoke as do 21.7 percent of women, a figure that is constantly growing, Russian health services say.

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