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Smokers are in for hard times - yesterday at its first
Smokers are in for hard times - yesterday at its first session this year, the Russian Government approved a bill on joining the anti-smoking framework convention of the World Health Organization (WHO).

If the Duma passes the bill, tobacco companies and smokers will have to get ready for unpleasant surprises. The former will have to pay higher taxes and face limits on their ads, while the latter will have to accept higher prices on cigarettes and a ban on smoking in public places.

Of course, we won't have to face such horrors as a ban on smoking in restaurants and bars like in France, at least in the near future. But if Russia ratifies the WHO convention, in the next three years our tobacco companies will have to give up the use of such words as "light" or "mild" on cigarette packs because they can mislead smokers that they are harmless. They will also have to use at least a third of a pack to warn about the harmful effect of smoking or to place a gloomy picture of the cancerous lungs of a smoker or tobacco-stained yellow teeth. In five years Russia will have to reduce tobacco ads to the minimum, raise substantially prices on cigarettes with fiscal measures, ban or limit the sale of tobacco goods in duty-free shops and ban smoking in public places.

The WHO adopted the anti-smoking convention at its 56th session in May 2003. It has been joined by 172 countries, including the European Union. But its provisions are carried out with different speed. Spain, the Netherlands, Norway and Italy have banned smoking in public places, while Australia, Brazil, Canada, Singapore and Thailand have so far limited themselves to putting horrible pictures about the damage of smoking on cigarette packs.

Our officials are sure that the WHO convention is in Russia's best interests. The government has already instructed the Ministry of Economic Development to draft a bill which would tailor our national legislation to the WHO requirements. The Chairman of the Duma Committee on Economic Policy Yevgeny Fedorov promised that the MPs would discuss and ratify the anti-smoking convention as soon as possible. Apparently, sad statistics has prompted policymakers to act.

Rospotrebnadzor (Federal Service for Consumer Protection Rights and Welfare) reports that in the last 20 years the number of smokers in Russia has increased by 440,000. Some 65% of men and more than 30% of women smoke, as well as more than three million teenagers. Doctors say that a quarter of regular smokers are doomed to premature death. In 2006, 400,000 Russians died of smoking-related diseases.

Strange as it may seem, but representatives of tobacco companies are calm, if not benevolent about the news. Director of the department of corporate issues at the Phillip Morris International affiliated companies in Russia and Belarus Artyom Chernis said: "This is a point of departure for forming a legal field for the comprehensive industry regulation." He explained that until recently tobacco companies had to deal with fragmentary regulation when most different legislative acts were drafted and adopted in the absence of a common approach. This attitude is easy to explain - on the one hand, some parts of the convention are already being implemented here, and on the other hand, Russian tobacco kings are confident that Russian officials will not go to the extremes.

Today, smoking ads are banned on TV, radio, in the streets, transport and almost all public places. Tobacco producers are limited to BTL-actions at the places of sale and in the press. But smoking ads will not be completely prohibited. In 2001, President Vladimir Putin acknowledged that a complete ban on smoking ads is against the Constitution. In the meantime, the Duma has already prepared for the second reading a bill which requires that tobacco producers should use at least 30% of the cigarette packs to warn about the harmful effects of smoking, as the WHO demands. As for prices, they are going up - excise duties on tobacco are increasing every year. Now producers are paying no less than 2.84 rubles for every pack of filtered cigarettes, and by 2010 they will have to pay 4.2 rubles.

In general, tobacco companies are hoping that their losses in Russia will be much smaller than in other countries. Prices on cigarettes are still low - a pack in Russia costs 40 rubles on the average, which compares with 3-10 Euros in the EU. This is why the demand for cigarettes in Russia is much higher than in Europe. There is no risk that prices on tobacco products will skyrocket because in this case the Russian market will be flooded with cheap smuggled cigarettes.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.


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