11 April 2008
Russia is joining the WHO Framework Convention
MOSCOW – The Russian Duma ratified the World Health Organization’s anti-tobacco agreement, known formally as the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, is a public health victory with the potential to save millions of Russian lives this century.
Russia is one of the heaviest-smoking nations in the world, with more than 60 percent of Russian men and up to 30 percent of Russian women counted as regular smokers in a nation in which the population has now shrunk to less than 143 million people. Russia ranks fourth worldwide in annual per-capita consumption, with some 2,665 cigarettes smoked, behind only Serbia and Montenegro, Greece and Bulgaria.
The national smoking epidemic is prematurely killing an estimated 400,000 Russians each year. Some long-time smokers cut their lives short by 10 to 16 years. This very preventable crisis is exacerbating the nation’s population decline.
“The Russian government’s example should be followed by all other countries, including the United States of America and Indonesia, the two most populous nations that have not ratified this life-saving agreement,” said Academician Nikolai F. Gerasimenko, Russia’s anti-smoking champion and deputy chairman of the Duma’s Health Protection Committee.
Other former Soviet republics -- Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan -- also have not joined the global health treaty, to which more than 150 nations now belong.
But ratification is only a first step. Russian policymakers and society need to undertake the simple but strong measures proven to reduce smoking rates and save lives. Those measures include:
- Banning all forms of tobacco industry advertising and sponsorship;
- Protecting everyone’s right to breathe smoke-free, carcinogen-free air through the adoption of laws that prohibit all smoking in public places and workplaces;
- Dramatically raising taxes on tobacco products, the single most effective step in encouraging adult smokers to quit and discouraging young people from starting; higher taxes also increase government revenues to help offset the enormous economic costs due to smoking-related illnesses; currently, Russia’s cigarettes are among the cheapest in the world;
- Requiring cigarette packs to display large, strong and graphic health warnings.
- Banning misleading descriptions such as “light” and “low tar” on cigarette packs.
Russia’s decision to join the world treaty also means it will take part in negotiations for a new global anti-smuggling agreement. Roughly 100 billion cigarettes, of the more than 400 billion produced yearly in Russia, are sold abroad.
The Russian cigarette market is dominated by the big three multinational giants -- Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco and Japan Tobacco International. To lure new smokers, especially among women and youth, these companies continue to use aggressive advertising and marketing tactics that are now banned in many nations and should be banned in Russia as well.
Russia also will benefit by more tightly regulating the sale of cigarettes, which are now cheaply and easily purchased by minors from street kiosks. These kiosks also effectively serve as standing billboards for the tobacco industry, which is shamelessly marketing specialized Glamour, “light” and “slim” brands to women – contributing to the doubling of female Russian smokers in the last decade.
For more information, check the following sites:
- http://www.who.int/tobacco/en -- World Health Organization site, also in Russian.
- www.fctc.org – Framework Convention Alliance for Tobacco Control, a coalition of non-governmental organizations.
- www.tobaccofreecenter.org – Fact sheets in English and in Russian on Russia’s smoking epidemic prepared by the Washington, D.C.-based Campaign For Tobacco-Free Kids.