Accessibility links

Breaking News

No Smoking In Russia? Tough New Antitobacco Rules Come To The Land Of Cigarettes

A man smokes in a bar in central Moscow. Some bar managers are saying the smoking ban actually helps business.
A man smokes in a bar in central Moscow. Some bar managers are saying the smoking ban actually helps business.

MOSCOW -- A group of pro-Kremlin youth activists approaches a middle-aged woman smoking outside a subway station -- a no-smoking zone as of last year. Filming her with a handheld camera, they insist that she put out her cigarette.

Initially, the woman refuses. "Why don't you get a job?" she says, showing her backside to the camera. But in the end, she gives in, throwing the lit cigarette at one of the young men and storming off in a huff.

This Moscow street scene, circulated on the Internet in a video, illustrates the tensions between smokers and antitobacco activists as tough new legislation comes into force in Russia, the world's second-largest cigarette market.

The latest provisions of the law came into force on June 1 and prohibit smoking in most public indoor places -- including bars, restaurants, offices, and public transportation.

"It's horribly inconvenient!" says Anush Zogranyan, an accountant and smoker in her 40s, who on a cool, overcast weekday was smoking outside a Moscow cafe that until this month would be thick with tobacco smoke. She adds that she has "morally" steeled herself for the ban, but is not looking forward to smoking outdoors in winter.

Others say the ban is cramping their social life. "I've started going out less," says Aleksei, a 30-year-old advertising worker who was having a cigarette before entering a restaurant on his lunch break. "I used to go out every week, but now it's more like once a month."

Meanwhile, some in the hospitality industry are reporting a loss of revenue.

Igor Bukharov, head of the Federation for Restaurants and Hotels, told the daily "Izvestia" that in some establishments revenue has fallen 15-20 percent since the ban. "This is very serious. Those are the statistics for cafes, restaurants, and bars," he added. "We didn't count clubs."

Grudging Support

The legislation, signed into law by President Vladimir Putin in February 2013, came into effect in several stages.

Last year, the minimum price on cigarettes was raised slightly -- although at approximately $1.50 a pack they are still considerably less expensive than in the West. Smoking was also outlawed in recreational areas like parks and beaches, outside subway stations, and inside jails and hospitals.

As of June 1, in addition to the indoor smoking ban, cigarettes cannot be displayed in stores, and showing the inhaling of tobacco smoke in films and on television is illegal "unless it is an integral part of the artist's idea."

The law aims to reduce smoking among Russians by 15 percent by 2020, increase budget revenue by 1 trillion rubles ($29.6 billion), and reverse the precipitous population decline that hit Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Some lawmakers have sought to take the smoking ban even further. This month, Communist Party lawmaker Ivan Nikitchuk, in an apparent effort to improve birthrates, introduced a bill to the State Duma banning women under 40 years of age from smoking. The measure, however, was not passed.

Despite the inevitable grumbling, the tough new antismoking measures have some support -- even among smokers.

Raisa, a 60-year-old smoker, says the legislation is long overdue -- mostly for the sake of the younger generation. "My grandchildren are growing up," she says, perching on a street bench outside an Uzbek restaurant. "I always leave the apartment to smoke when they are in. Children should not have to breathe smoke."

And even some bar managers are saying the smoking ban actually helps business. "In our case, people are happier about it. More people are coming to us," says Pyotr Baryshnikov, 24, who helps run The Delicatessen, a Moscow bar and restaurant that caters to a young urban-middle-class crowd.

"This is a cellar bar and when people smoked here it was really smoky and not everyone liked it," he adds. "I think we are already seeing a generation that is against nicotine and that lives more healthily."

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.