President Vladimir Putin signed an anti-smoking bill into law today that looks set to transform Russian public life. The legislation will see smoking outlawed in government buildings and other public institutions from this summer, and in all restaurants, bars and cafes from next year.
The law mirrors legislation already in force in many Western countries, including Britain, but will be felt particularly in Russia, where almost half the population are smokers. The country is the second-largest tobacco market in the world after China, and the law was opposed by the foreign tobacco giants that dominate the market.
From 1 June, smoking will be banned in schools, government buildings and a number of other public places. But the real changes will come a year later, when street kiosks will be banned from selling tobacco products, and advertising will also be restricted.
New minimum prices will be introduced for cigarettes, which are currently priced at around £1 per pack. Some Russian brands are available for as little as 20p per pack. Restaurants and cafes in Moscow and across Russia, many of which are almost always thick with cigarette smoke, will also be forced to adopt a smoking ban. There is scepticism about how well the law will be enforced, however, especially in the provinces.
Last year, the Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said there are 400,000 smoking-related deaths annually, and the move is part of a drive to combat Russia’s demographic crisis and reverse the population decline. Mr Putin has been keen to promote a healthier lifestyle among Russians and does not smoke or drink vodka.