Smoke without fire

World No Tobacco Day was yesterday. As World Health Organization states, the purpose of this annual event started in 1987 is to give a global platform to address the tobacco epidemic and its effects. Being in Russia during this time of the year makes this event especially interesting for me.

On my daily commute to work today, I was reading an article in Moscow Times on the topic after inhaling lung full of second-hand smoke on my way to the metro station. The statistics related to tobacco consumption in Russia are staggering. With 40% of the adult population engaging in regular smoking habits and tobacco companies producing 2,838 cigarettes per person in 2010 (approximately 142 packs), Russia is one of the top five tobacco consumption countries in the world (Smirnova, 2011, Moscow Times). Things that don’t help with reducing this statistic: some of the lowest prices on tobacco products in the world (aided by low government taxes on tobacco products), lack of proper labeling on cigarette packs (such as: “one million people die from tobacco each year”) and generally lax laws on smoking zones. As I noticed within my first few hours in Moscow, you can smoke pretty much anywhere there isn’t a propane tank. Indoor smoking is prolific which makes sitting in a restaurant for dinner a potentially lethal activity. Walking around a city as densely populated as Moscow, you invariably inhale second-hand smoke from the ubiquitous “walking smoker.”

Now, I am no moral police… people are entitled to their own decisions about engaging in lethal habits. In today’s hyper-connected world, I also refuse to believe that lack of information could be perpetuating the habit. I think, more often than not, it’s cultural and generational. In some cultures, smoking is more widely accepted and allowed. That being said, smoking is rising in lower-income levels and decreasing in higher-income classes, so clearly there is still some education to be done in certain demographics.

“I want to be just like mommy!”

What rankles me about this issue is the idea of second-hand smoke. The statistic reported by WHO that, of the 6 million people who die prematurely because of cigarette exposure every year, 600,000 of those deaths result from second-hand smoke each year is both frustrating and frightening. Could I be one of them?

The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control established in 1996 which now has 173 countries signed up as participants (the latest of which is Turkmenistan) proposes nationally coordinated policy on managing tobacco consumption. It calls for controlling specific tobacco-related messages include anti-smoking ad campaigns and graphic labeling on cigarette cartons, raising taxes on tobacco products among other things. Personally, I think that while we tackle this beast of an issue, the least that can be done is creating more separation between smokers and non-smokers. In Moscow, mandating anti-smoking zones at restaurants and bars and designating specific smoking zones in outdoor spaces will dramatically affect the quality of life of thousands of second-hand smoke inhalers. My lungs would certainly appreciate the relief!

Note: Russia has started the conversation around the WHO FCTC but has not approved the adoption of this framework.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: