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close this bookFact sheet No 157: Tobacco Epidemic in the Russian Federation kills 750 People every single day - May 1997 (WHO, 1997, 3 p.)
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View the documentTobacco Epidemic in the Russian Federation Kills 750 People Every Single Day

Tobacco Epidemic in the Russian Federation Kills 750 People Every Single Day

The Crisis in Public Health is Aggravated by Increasing Numbers of Smokers

The dramatic economic and social changes that have occurred in Russia in a very short period of time against the background of an unprecedented economic crisis, have certainly affected the nation's health status.

Russia is experiencing an intense increase in the mortality rate and a reduction of life expectancy - summary indicators of the socioeconomic and health status of a society.

* Russia is expected to reduce its birth rate from 10.85 to 10.81 per 1000 population between 1995 and 2000. In the same period, the age and sex standardized mortality rate is expected to increase from 858 to 876 per 100 000 population. Between 1995 and 1996, the population of the country was reduced by more than 1 million.

* In terms of life expectancy, Russia trails behind the world's developed countries by 10 to 15 years. Its infant mortality rate is 2 to 3 times higher than in developed countries.

Like all other Former Socialist Economies (FSE), where the number of deaths due to tobacco use is increasing and projected to account for more than 22% of all deaths by 2020, the Russian Federation is being swept along by the tobacco epidemic.

* About two-thirds of Russian men and one-third of Russian women smoke.

* Smoking rates among adolescents are increasing, especially among girls.

* Today, 55% of all deaths in Russia are due to heart diseases, which are followed by cancers accounting for another 20%. Between 25% and 30% of both groups of diseases are caused by smoking.

* Tobacco causes about 280 000 deaths per year in the Russian Federation alone, 32% of all male deaths and 5% of all female deaths.

* One may judge the magnitude of the problem by the approximately 300 thousand million cigarettes that were manufactured or imported into Russia in 1995.

Since 1986, cigarette production and imports increased by 40%, from 215 thousand million in 1986 to about 300 thousand million in 1995. There are many factors which have been associated with the dramatic increase in smoking in the Russian Federation:

* Tobacco rationing in the early 1990s. In the early 1990's, because of shortages of raw tobacco, filter materials, and other supplies, there was a considerable gap between the demand and the production of tobacco products in the USSR and, especially, in the Russian Federation. The government then had to introduce tobacco rationing which led to "tobacco riots" with cars overturned and city roads blocked by angry smokers. This situation led to the opening of the Russian market to imported cigarettes, and massive amounts of tobacco advertising.

* Psychological distress on the Russian people imposed by dramatic economic and social changes which occurred in Russia in a very short period of time. Thirty four percent of Russians now live below the official poverty level. Despite scientific evidence to the contrary, there still prevails a false idea that smoking helps psychological distress.

* Attraction of the Western lifestyle associated with smoking and projected in imported, mostly old American, films and TV programmes which flooded Russia. Russian youth is especially attracted to this image which they perceive as "fashionable", or "high class".

* Lack of legislation regulating tobacco advertising. The importation of tobacco products in Russia was accompanied by aggressive and effective western-type advertising which associates smoking with sex appeal, adventure, glamour, and other positive emotions and perceptions. In 1993, as much as 40% of advertising of foreign products was tobacco advertising. Tobacco advertising on TV has since been restricted but not banned.

* Easy access to cheap, low-quality tobacco products. Because of the lack of quality control over tobacco products and unprecedented smuggling, Russia was flooded with cheap cigarettes of dubious quality, with small or no health warnings at all.

* Lack of financial resources in the public health sector to counter the "tobacco assault". Serious financial constraints do not make it possible, for example, to produce high quality anti-tobacco materials. Anti-tobacco video clips produced at the request of the Russian Ministry of Health are shown on TV during the daytime when most people are at work or at school. In contrast, a tobacco company has recently provided the bulk of US$150 000 spent on just one advertising festival in Moscow.

* Absence of an effective system for quality control of tobacco products. Until recently, Russia did not have reliable, independent control of tobacco products. Currently, there are three laboratories that provide such control: the Laboratory of the Russian Research Institute of Tobacco and Makhorka in the city of Krasnodar; the Laboratory of the Oncological Research Centre in Moscow; and the Laboratory for Tobacco Quality Control in Moscow.

* Breaking up of a centralized system for health promotion and of the previously developed intersectoral cooperation throughout the extensive territory of the Russian Federation.

Because of these and other reasons, Russia is becoming an increasingly lucrative market for cigarette manufacturers from Western Europe and the United States.

* In 1995, 26 factories located in Russia manufactured 140 thousand million cigarettes and papirossi - a uniquely Russian smoking product. The rest of the demand - more than 50% - was met by imports. Today, Russia is importing about 150 thousand million cigarettes a year.

* In 1994, the sales of American-made cigarettes increased in volume by 36% and in price by 57%. It is interesting to note in this respect that cigarette manufacturing and sales are decreasing in the United States, while sales of American-made cigarettes in other countries, including the Russian Federation, are increasing.

In order to slow the progress of the tobacco epidemic in the Russian Federation, concerted, purposeful action will be needed to implement comprehensive tobacco control measures, as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

For further information, please contact Health Communications and Public Relations, WHO, Geneva. Telephone (41 22) 791 2532. Fax (41 22) 791 4858.

All WHO Press Releases, Fact Sheets and Features can be obtained on Internet on the WHO home page

© WHO/OMS, 1998