Russian lawmakers are this week debating a bill that mimics the tough, anti-tobacco legislation implemented across much of Europe in recent years, potentially eradicating smoking in many of the country's restaurants and bars.

The move - proposed by members of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's political party - would follow Russia's entry last spring into the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

That treaty requires a ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship within five years, bigger health warnings on cigarette boxes and the gradual prohibition of smoking in public places.

If passed, advocates say the new restrictions could help stem the decline in Russia's 140 million population. Around 65% of men and 30% of women in Russia smoke, according to the health committee of the State Duma, or lower house of Parliament. Opponents say tighter rules would suffocate much of the hospitality industry that has flourished amid the country's consumer boom of the last decade.

The Duma is this week discussing the crucial second reading of amendments to the 2001 Federal Law on smoking, which at the time outlawed cigarettes in the workplace and on planes. The latest amendments - drawn up by nine deputies from Putin's United Russia party, which dominates the Duma - seek to extend the smoking ban to cafes, bars and nightclubs.

The Duma is scheduled to vote on the proposed changes in March, after which they must be passed in a third reading, approved by the upper house - the Federation Council - and signed into law by President Dmitry Medvedev.

In one version of the amendments - backed by the Health Ministry - restaurants with floor space of less than 50 square meters would have to phase out smoking on their premises within six months of the bill's becoming law.

Bigger venues would be able to offer diners the opportunity to light up in a separate room - sealed off from the rest of the restaurant - for two years, after which a blanket ban would come into effect.

"Measures to curb tobacco use are seen as the best way to prevent chronic diseases, lower the death rate and increase life expectancy," Health Minister Tatyana Golikova wrote in a January letter seen by Dow Jones Newswires to the head of the Duma's health committee, Olga Borzova.
A spokesman for Borzova declined to comment.
< br />Having contracted by more than two million in three years, Russia's population stood at almost 142 million toward the end of 2008. The United Nations has said it may fall by a further 34 million by 2050, although the Health Ministry has unveiled a scheme to steady the figure at 145 million by 2025 amid a downturn in cardiovascular disease.

According to the Health Ministry, up to half a million people die from smoking-related diseases each year in Russia, where a packet of cigarettes retails at around 30 rubles ($0.82) - well below Western European prices.

The Russian tobacco industry generates around $12 billion annually, with Japan Tobacco Inc. (2914.TO), Philip Morris International (PM) and British American Tobacco Ltd. (BTI) the major players. Japan Tobacco declined to comment for this article. But Philip Morris and BAT said they agreed that smoking in public places should be regulated. "In our view, regulation should allow business owners to have the flexibility to decide how best to meet their smoking and non-smoking customers' preferences. Millions of adult smokers in Russia should be able to smoke in restaurants and bars," said Leo McLoughlin, managing director for Philip Morris International's affiliates in Russia and Belarus. "Where smoking is permitted, the public should be informed about the health risks of environmental tobacco smoke exposure to non-smokers." BAT said it won't be greatly affected if the bill is passed, but said local businesses would suffer if customers are prevented from smoking.

"We don't expect any serious effect on our business if the latest draft amendments...are implemented as the [food service industry] segment is not a primary cigarette sales channel for us," said Alexander Lioutyi, head of corporate and regulatory affairs at BAT Russia.

"But some of the legislative proposals that are being voiced now would serious ly harm the business of the owners of cafes and restaurants, already affected by the current economic downturn," he said.

Some Moscow restaurateurs say a smoking ban would hit their businesses harder than similar measures imposed in Western European nations like France and the U.K., especially with Russian officials now predicting a contraction of more than 2% in the country's economy this year.

They say Russia's dining-out culture isn't as developed and is therefore more vulnerable should cigarettes be outlawed.

Chinese Association on Tobacco Control Copyright © 1992-2011
  906-907 Anhuidongli, Chaoyang District Beijing 100101

Tel: (8610)64983905  Fax: (8610)64983805     Email: