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A Historic Victory for Tobacco Control

Friday, February 1, 2013

International tobacco control experts meeting with Ministry of Health staff in Moscow.

Fur coats everywhere you look, an icing of snow on pastel-colored buildings, ice sculptures on Patriarch's Pond, and hot soup with sour cream for lunch – It must be Moscow in January.

The view outside our conference room in the center of Moscow.

Ignoring our ruined boots and the deep freeze international partners (expert in tobacco control) have been coming to this area of the world for the past five years, discussing our plans to support tobacco control in Russia for the year ahead. Together we aided and advised the Ministry of Health on international best practices in tobacco control, including smoke-free hospitals and mega-sporting events. And we encouraged strong tobacco control laws and public information campaigns.

We definitely had our doubters. “Good luck with that.”, people said. Or simply, “It will never happen,” This was the general response I got from those who were familiar with Russia and its politics. Sometimes they would remind me of the riots back when Gorbachev tried to raise taxes. Cheap, readily available cigarettes are something that the Russian people rely on, more than one person told me.

But last Friday, as I was boarding a plane to come home to New York, I got the big news we had been waiting for – The Russian Parliament (or Duma) had voted for historic national legislation on tobacco control. New laws were now likely imminent. These laws would curtail smoking in restaurants and other public places, ban tobacco advertising and cigarette displays; and limit where one can buy cigarettes. There is even a strong recommendation for an increase in cigarettes taxes– though packs will remain quite inexpensive compared to much of Europe.

Nevertheless, Moscow was going the way of other world class cities that doubters across the world said would never go smoke-free—from the pubs of London, England to the cafes of Paris, France and on to Istanbul, Turkey.

This really is the only sensible way for Russia to go, as Russia has been losing some 400,000 per year to smoking. Some 40 percent of Russians smoke—one of the highest smoking rates in the world.

The ban was approved overwhelmingly on a second reading, with the 450-member State Duma (the lower house) supporting it. A third reading is still required before the legislation is sent to the upper house and then it must go on for Vladimir Putin to sign. These steps are predicted in February.

The law is truly something to be proud of but of course the devil is in the details. The laws must be publicized, respected, enforced and not delayed.

It’s been a long time coming. Now the work begins.

Click here to see a copy of our press release on the new tobacco control legislation, Russia

Click here to see the latest tobacco control ads WLF assisted the MOH Russia in creating.

Click here to hear a radio interview about the new Russian Legislation I did with the Voice of Russia.  

Rebecca Perl
Associate Director, Communications and Special Projects
World Lung Foundation

World Lung Foundation
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