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Teen Smoking Called a 'National Catastrophe'

Moscow's top doctor said Friday that smoking-related diseases were growing and warned that teenage smoking was leading to a "national catastrophe."

Dr. Leonid Lazebnik painted a grim picture of the harm that tobacco was causing Russians, telling a round table that 65 percent of men and 30 percent of women have smoked at some time in their lives.

In contrast, Lazebnik said, the figures in the mid-1980s were 48 percent of men and 5 percent of women.

He said 24.6 percent of Muscovites are smokers.

"But the scariest thing of all is our future," Lazebnik said. "In Moscow, 73 percent of boys and 65 percent of girls smoke. I see this as a national catastrophe."

Lazebnik did not provide figures for the growth in smoking-related diseases.

City Hall and federal officials attending Friday's round table promised to lobby for laws that restricted smoking in public places and limited cigarette sales.

"We will have no success without a legal base," said Yulia Grimalskaya, deputy head of City Hall's department for family and youth policies.

She said her department was lobbying for a ban on selling cigarettes in kiosks, the licensing of tobacco sales and high fines for smoking in public places, including restaurants.

Nikolai Gerasimenko, first deputy head of State Duma's commission for health protection, called for higher excise duties on tobacco products, which he said would clear the market of contraband cigarettes and drive up cigarette prices, making them less affordable.

Russia has the lowest excise duties on tobacco goods in Europe, said Dmitry Yanin, chairman of the board at the International Confederation of Consumer Societies.

Yanin urged a ban on tobacco advertising and smoking in public places. "Smoking-free zones would boost Moscow's tourist potential," Yanin said.

Gerasimenko complained that foreign tobacco makers were making money at Russia's expense.

"They get their profits, while we spend lots of money on medical treatment," he said.

About 10 percent of tobacco traders on the Russian market are foreign, he said.

Lyudmila Stebenkova, head of the Moscow City Duma's commission for public health protection, suggested that restaurants consider offering smoke-free days.

She also said the public needed to be educated about the dangers of smoking through anti-tobacco billboards. Her commission is responsible for creating such billboards, including one that depicts a hand squeezing a dirty sponge, which is compared to a smoker's lung, that was used in a citywide campaign late last year.

According to a survey conducted by the state-run VTsIOM polling agency in December, those billboards, which were posted around the city in November, had led 7 percent of respondents to quit smoking.

The survey questioned 1,000 Muscovites, all of them smokers or former smokers, a VTsIOM spokeswoman said by telephone. It offered no margin of error.

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