Russia launches anti-smoking crackdown

MOSCOW - Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev launched a crackdown on smoking on Tuesday with a bill to ban tobacco advertising and raise taxes on cigarettes in the world's second largest tobacco market after China.

Medvedev, stern-faced in a leather jacket in a message on his video blog, said one in three Russians, or 44 million people, are hooked on smoking in Russia, and almost 400,000 die every year of smoking-related causes.

"Every year (the equivalent of) a large city disappears," he said. "The government has adopted an anti-tobacco concept and today we are beginning to realise it."

Under health ministry proposals, tobacco advertising - now only allowed in some print media - would be outlawed, taxes progressively increased on cigarette sales and smoking in cafes and other public spaces eventually banned.

Russia banned tobacco billboard ads in 2007.

The bill is expected to be submitted to parliament for approval in the coming days, two sources told Reuters.

The top players in Russia - British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International, Philip Morris and Imperial Tobacco - have lobbied to soften the proposed legislation.

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