Background: Since the political transition in 1991, Russia has been targeted intensively by the transnational tobacco industry. Already high smoking rates among men have increased further; traditionally low rates among women have more than doubled. The tobacco companies have so far faced little opposition as they shape the discourse on smoking in Russia. This paper asks what ordinary Russians really think about possible actions to reduce smoking.
Methods: A representative sample of the Russian population (1600 respondents) was interviewed face to face in November 2007.
Results: Only 14% of respondents considered tobacco control in Russia adequate, while 37% thought that nothing was being done at all. There was support for prices keeping pace with or even exceeding inflation. Over 70% of all respondents favoured a ban on sales from street kiosks, while 56% believed that existing health warnings (currently 4% of front and back of packs) were inadequate. The current policy of designating a few tables in bars and restaurants as non-smoking was supported by less than 10% of respondents, while almost a third supported a total ban, with 44% supporting provision of equal space for smokers and non-smokers. Older age, non-smoking status and living in a smaller town all emerged as significantly associated with the propensity to support antismoking measures. The tobacco companies were generally viewed as behaving like most other companies in Russia, with three-quarters of respondents believing that these companies definitely or maybe bribe politicians. Knowledge of impact of smoking on health was limited with significant underestimation of dangers and addictive qualities of tobacco. A third believed that light cigarettes are safer than normal cigarettes.
Conclusion: The majority of the Russian population would support considerable strengthening of tobacco control policies but there is also a need for effective public education campaigns.
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Funding: This research was supported by a grant from the Bloomberg Global Initiative on Tobacco Control. Additional support for AG and MM’s work on tobacco policy in Russia is from the project “Globalisation, the tobacco industry and policy influence” funded by the US National Cancer Institute. AG is supported by a Health Foundation Clinician Scientist fellowship.
Competing interests: None.