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Russia needs state anti-smoking policy - chief epidemiologist

MOSCOW, March 29 (RIA Novosti) - Russia needs to adopt a state policy in the fight against smoking to improve public health, Russia's chief epidemiologist, Gennady Onishchenko, told a news conference Thursday.

"The absence of a clear anti-tobacco policy means that 65% of men and over 30% of women smoke in Russia," Onishchenko said. Adding of these around 80% of men and 50% of women started smoking before they were 18 years.

The head of Russia's consumer rights watchdog, Rospotrebnadzor, said, "The army of smokers has increased by 440,000 people in the past 20 years, primarily among young people and women."

He said an average smoker consumed 1,415 cigarettes a year in 1985, while in 2005 the figure was 2,613 cigarettes a day.

The official said that tobacco accounted for 17% of all premature deaths in Russia, including 90% from lung cancer. Onishchenko said that on average smokers live 10 to 15 years less than non-smokers.

Onishchenko said Russia should ratify the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC).

The WHO FCTC was developed in response to the globalization of the tobacco epidemic, and entered into force on February 27, 2005. And 192 countries have since signed up for it.

"We would have to pay $30,000 in advance, which would evidently undermine our budget," Onishchenko joked grimly.

He also said that the low price of cigarettes in Russia contributed to the problem.

"The market of cheap cigarettes is a key economic mechanism for recruiting young smokers," Onishchenko said.

The finance ministry ensures that the price of cigarettes is lower than that of such essentials as bread or transport, said Sergei Shatalov, deputy finance minister.

Shatalov said tobacco currently was one of the most stable products, with Russia producing about 4 billion cigarettes a year.

The official said no price hike for tobacco was expected soon.

"It is a very competitive market," Shatalov said. "The growth in prices has always been lower than inflation, and I don't think the situation will change," he said.

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