MOSCOW – Russia's Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday called for a ban on all tobacco ads, as the government prepares a bill that would also phase out smoking in public.
World Health Organization says that some 40 percent of Russia's adult population smokes, one of the highest rates in the world. A pack of cigarettes in Russia costs between one and two dollars, and clouds of smoke hover in most Russian bars and restaurants.
In a video message posted on his blog on Tuesday, Medvedev listed the dismal statistics and insisted that the government's clampdown is not targeting smokers, but smoking.
The government will consider a bill this month that would ban all tobacco ads, gradually ban smoking in all public places by 2015 and raise the price of cigarettes, a radical step for a country where 44 million adults light up. Both houses of parliament will need to pass the bill before it can become a law.
About 400,000 Russians die every year of smoke-related causes, which Medvedev described as a "terrifying figure equivalent to the population of one big city."
The number of smokers in Russia has increased over the past decades while tobacco prices were hardly regulated and smoking ads were largely unrestricted.
WHO statistics show that the rate of female smoking in Russia shoot up from just 7 percent in 1992 to 22 percent in 2009.
Medvedev said the planned clampdown should benefit children and teenagers. He said that 90 percent of Russian smokers take up the habit before they turn 20.
"Our children get used to tobacco smoke when they're still babies and have their first cigarette in middle school, that's why we cannot talk about smoking as a free choice of an adult," the prime minister said.
Oleg Salagai, a health ministry official, told the Interfax news agency that the proposed measures are expected to cut smoking rates by half.
Medvedev called on Russians to support the bill, insisting that it will focus on smoking and tobacco companies, not on smokers.
"We can no longer tolerate tobacco companies making profits on our children and turn them into life-time tobacco consumers. It's immoral."
Salagai said that Russia loses an estimated 1.2 trillion rubles ($38 billion), or 6 percent of the country's gross domestic product, because of smoke-related deaths.