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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian lawmakers are considering following Europe's lead and imposing a nationwide ban on smoking in public places, hoping to promote a healthier lifestyle in a country where smoking is popular and the population in decline.
Stale cigarette smoke hangs over Russian restaurants and bars and there are few non-smoking areas.
On the long-distance trains that criss-cross Russia, smokers lurk at the back of carriages; in airports they congregate in overcrowded smoking zones or male toilets to puff on cigarettes beside the urinals before boarding their flights.
Around 40 percent of all adults smoke, a parliamentary committee has estimated.
All that could change if Health Minister Tatyana Golikova has her way.
Parliament is considering her request to change the law and ban smoking in bars, nightclubs, restaurants and casinos with an area of under 50 sq meters (538 sq feet), about a quarter of the size of a tennis court, followed two years later by a total ban on smoking in public places.
Nightclub owners in Moscow were not thrilled at the prospect of a smoking ban.
"In New York, only 20 percent of the nightclubs survived after the smoking ban was introduced even though the climate allows people to go outside and smoke," said the owner of two of Moscow's best-known nightclubs, Georgy Petrushin.
Cigarettes cost about $1 a packet in Russia, posters advertising the joy of smoking plaster the streets and many high-profile public figures smoke.
But the government wants to promote a more healthy lifestyle in a country where the average life expectancy for men is under 60, far lower than in western Europe, and the population is declining.
Reporting by Maria Plis, writing by James Kilner; editing by Tim Pearce