* Russia among world's heaviest-smoking countries
* Smoking ban latest move to improve public health
* Hardened smokers view ban as discriminatory
By Alexander Winning
MOSCOW, May 30 Russia risks igniting the ire of
its 44 million smokers when it extends bans on cigarettes to
restaurants and bars on Sunday as part of a battle to break the
habit in one of heaviest-smoking countries in the world.
The ban is the latest measure under President Vladimir Putin
to promote healthy lifestyles - which goes hand in hand with his
support for what he calls traditional values - and stem a
population decline that began after the Soviet breakup.
Putin's government hopes to reduce the share of the adult
population that smokes from 39 percent, one of the highest rates
in the world, to 25 percent by 2020.
"Thanks to this law people understand that smoking is bad
and that smoking around others is a crime," said Sergei
Kalashnikov, head of the Public Health Committee in the State
Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament.
"The point has been forcefully made and people will be
punished for ignoring the law," said Kalashnikov, who represents
the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party.
Russia began introducing tougher controls on smoking last
summer, banning smoking in government buildings and advertising
by tobacco companies.
From June 1, smoking will also be banned in bars,
restaurants, hotels and on trains, and cigarettes will no longer
be on display in shops or sold in kiosks. Many other nations
already have similar restrictions.
"We relied on U.S. and European research for this law. In
this respect, we completely trust our colleagues in the West,"
Kalashnikov said, adding that foreign tobacco firms - which
control about 90 percent of the $20 billion Russian market - had
lobbied intensely against the law.
International tobacco companies, whose dwindling sales in
Western markets have been offset for years by hefty Russian
consumption, say the new rules go too far.
Alexander Lyuty, communications director at British American
Tobacco in Moscow, said data showing that Russia's
tobacco market shrank 7 percent last year failed to take account
of surging contraband imports from other Soviet republics.
"Cigarette prices are rising faster than consumers'
disposable incomes. This triggers an inflow of contraband and
reduces sales of legal cigarettes in the market," he said.
Kalashnikov said the government was planning a further hike
in excise taxes, which have already risen sharply this year, to
increase pressure on smokers to quit.
Excise taxes typically account for 60 percent of the price
of a pack of cigarettes in Europe, while in Russia they still
only make up 17 percent of the cost, he said.
Roman Grinchenko, an analyst at Investcafe, said tougher
regulation was likely to apply "significant pressure" to tobacco
producers but that its financial impact was hard to quantify.
Bar and restaurant owners are fiercely opposed, fearing bans
will cut business. Egor, 24, a barman working in central Moscow,
said: "People are going to think: Why should I go to bars if
they're not going to let me smoke there?"
According to a recent poll by independent Russian pollster
Levada Centre, 82 percent of Russian restaurateurs expect
customer numbers to drop from Sunday.
The World Health Organization says that smoking kills 5.4
million people worldwide every year. But for Russia's hardened
smokers, the ban is nothing short of discrimination.
"I can understand those who want to prevent young people
smoking. But when a law is passed which is in essence a law on
the genocide of smokers - that I can't understand," said Mikhail
Barshchevsky, a lawyer, at a recent smokers' rights conference.
"The law is senseless and won't be observed."
(Reporting by Alexander Winning; editing by Steve Gutterman and