Russia Ready for War With Smoking and Vaping, Says Health Ministry

Russia is setting up a new five-year plan to reduce levels of smoking in the country with new restrictions on cigarettes, hookahs and e-cigarettes.

In a new draft regulation that the ministry would like to implement by 2022, officials hope to ban smoking virtually anywhere a bystander objects to the smoker's puffing. By default, the new restricted areas include bus stops, shopping centers or in the smoker's own car if there is a child present. The proposal from the ministry has not been submitted to a parliamentary vote, where it already has a split opinion, according to Russia's official legislature newspaper Parlamentskaya Gazeta.

The plan also seeks to ban flavored cigarettes, infused with the taste of fruit or edible products, and to introduce an environment tax on tobacco cigarettes. Hookahs and recreational e-cigarettes are also under threat with the new strategy, at least for anybody wishing to smoke them in a public dining area, such as a coffee place or a restaurant. Smoking a cigarette in these areas is already illegal and has been since 2014, only a year after Russia's first effort to crack down on smoking in public.

The effort drew impetus from a WHO public health report, which recommended not only cornering off areas from smoking but also introducing a minimum retail price. Currently, the cheapest pack of cigarettes sold in Russia is four times less expensive than its equivalent in the West.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is famously not a smoker and has reprimanded ministers such as Russia's top diplomat Sergei Lavrov for not kicking the habit. The Health Ministry has repeatedly brainstormed ostentatious strategies seeking to reduce the number of smokers in Russia. One particular example was a report in pro-Kremlin newspaper Izvestia claiming to cite a copy of the very strategy unveiled this week.

The report claimed the ministry would press for a ban on selling tobacco to anyone born after 2014, potentially setting a legal principle that would one day make smoking totally illegal. This is currently not the case.

Despite Putin's personal allusions to healthy living, Russia has one of the highest smoking rates in the world, estimated at around 40 percent of the population.