31st January - Moscow. I was joined by my colleague Anna Gilmore for the first international advisory board meeting of the new Russian Anti-Tobacco Advocacy Campaign. This initiative, funded by the Bloomberg Initiative, brings together a broad ranging coalition of non-governmental organisations to tackle the scourge of smoking related diseases in Russia. It is no secret that the international tobacco companies have invested vast resources in penetrating the Russian market, something that we have documented in papers previously. More recently, in another paper, we showed how the prevalence of smoking among Russian women, once low, has doubled in 15 years. Smoking already exacts an enormous toll of premature death in Russia and the recent trends among women mean that this will increase further in the future.
One of the orginal goals of the coalition was to get Russia to ratify the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. That, at least, now seems to be happening, with the Cabinet sending the relevant legislation to the State Duma, where the majority leader has indicated that it will be supported (see story in Moscow News). Yet that is only the start.
The challenges are enormous but we were greatly reassured by the results of a new poll, conducted in a representative sample across Russia, showing a very high level of support for effective restrictions on smoking and, in particular, easy access to cheap cigarettes. The overwhelming majority believed that not enough was being done. So, there is much to do but considerable grounds for optimism.