Russia is the world’s second largest tobacco market after China and has one of the highest smoking rates. More than sixty percent of Russian men and 22 percent of Russian women smoke. The price of tobacco products in Russia is among the lowest in the world (a pack of cigarettes costs only $1.70), keeping cigarettes cheap and plentiful for young smokers. One-fourth of Russia’s teenagers (age 13-15) currently smoke, and thirty percent of Russian teenagers had tried their first cigarette by age 12 (2007 data).
In February 2013, President Putin signed a comprehensive tobacco control law that will protect people from secondhand smoke by not allowing smoking in most public places, restrict tobacco advertising, and prohibiting tobacco product displays.
We met recently with health officials from Yekaterinburg, the fourth-largest city in Russia to learn more about Russia’s new policies and to share our best practices. Dr. Svetlana Vladimirovna Glukhovskaya, Dr. Gennady Yevgenyevich Ivanov and Dr. Vladimir Bogdanovich Pidzamkiv have been active in anti-tobacco efforts for the past two years. They were invited to the U.S. under the auspices of the Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program to learn about tobacco control programs that focus on preventive medicine and public health methodology. They were particularly interested to learn how we had gained public support for smoke-free policies in New York City and why we’ve been so successful in reducing smoking rates.
The pricing of cigarettes and other tobacco products, we explained, has helped to dramatically reduce smoking rates. Higher prices discourage young people from starting to smoke and encourage adult smokers to quit. We explained that we use a comprehensive approach including bold smoke-free policies, educational media campaigns, tobacco prevention and cessation programs, and higher prices on tobacco products to reduce smoking rates in New York City.
Price points vary widely from country to country. According to The Tobacco Atlas, a pack of 20 Marlboro cigarettes costs $1.74 in Russia, compared with $6.36 in the U.S. and $15.11 in Norway. In New York City, thanks to recent legislation, the minimum cost for a pack of cigarettes is now $10.50.
We also spoke about our many community partners. We highlighted our work with local groups to build and demonstrate support for smoke-free policies that have helped to lower smoking rates. Our success would not be possible without their tremendous support.
We learned that Russian health officials are battling the broad-based cultural acceptance of tobacco use. Changing social norms takes time, requires education, community support and advocacy. We talked about how smoke-free policies have been embraced by New Yorkers and offered our support and encouragement to the Russian team.
More than one-third of the population in Russia smokes. Approximately, 400,000 Russians die each year from tobacco-related causes. We applaud the Russian government’s efforts to fight the tobacco epidemic in their country and stand with them in solidarity on this issue.