Russia tries to kick habit with anti-smoking law
By Steve Gutterman
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Tobacco restrictions came into force in Russia on Saturday which President Vladimir Putin hopes will create a healthier workforce and help reverse a population decline, but they face stiff opposition in a country where four in ten people smoke.
The measures, part of a law Putin signed in February, include a ban on smoking at schools and universities, museums, sports facilities, hospitals and on public transport - in many cases places where it is already prohibited.
A minimum price for cigarettes is expected to be set next January and the biggest challenge to Russia's cigarette culture will come in June 2014: a ban on smoking in cafes, restaurants and hotels, and on tobacco sales at street kiosks.
Nearly 40 percent of Russians smoke, compared with 27 percent in the United States and 30 percent in France, according to the World Health Organization's latest figures.
The average Russian life expectancy is 69, against 79 in the United States and 82 in France, according to the World Bank.
There are doubts about enforcement, and widespread debate among Russians over the impact of the new law.
Adopting it was the right thing to do, said Moscow resident Alexander. "I plan to quit smoking and hope this will help."
But opponents say it will not work and infringes on the rights of smokers. "Our country is not ready for this law," said prominent legal expert Mikhail Barshchevsky, likening it to former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's unpopular effort to crack down on drinking under his "perestroika" reforms of the late 1980s. Continued...