Do you smoke? I asked my taxi driver recently.
Yes. Were you wanting to smoke too? he asked me from the mirror.
No, no, in my life I’ve never smoked a cigarette. But I was wondering if you do.
It was a Sunday morning several weeks ago and instead of walking 25 minutes to the church building, I had called a cab. That’s a treat I allow myself on Sunday mornings and it gives me a few minutes for great conversation practice and our topic would be smoking, I had already decided. Not that I'm controlling or anything, you understand.
Yes, I’ve been smoking since I was 14.
I told him about stats I’d read, that 60 percent of Russian men smoke and 30 percent of women.
Oh it’s much higher than that, lots higher. And what’s really terrible is when young ladies smoke.
That’s worse than guys smoking?
Yes, it’s a thousand times worse. It just looks terrible. Worse of all is when pregnant women smoke.
He was such a nice looking young man. Tall and lanky, chiseled cheek bones, dark hair, a nice smile. I hated to think of what smoking was doing to him.
Russia is the biggest smoking market in Europe, third biggest in the world, behind the US and China. Cigarette sales have doubled since 1996 and in the last 20 years, the number of smokers has mushroomed.
This is taking a toll on Russian health and lifespan, of course. In 2006, 400,000 nationals died of smoking-related illnesses. And in a country where the population is shrinking because of emigration and low birth rate, this is setting off alarms.
In the works is a ban on all cigarette advertising in Russia, in addition to existing bans on outdoor, television and radio advertising. If the law is passed, companies will pay higher taxes and most certainly pass that along to the consumer. Higher prices might help slow down sales.
At 40 rubles a pack – around $1.63 – cigarettes are still inexpensive here. Besides that, cigarettes can be purchased individually for 2 to 3 rubles each – 10 to 13 cents – and even kids can afford that. And many of them do.
When I was five, I decided to become a smoker. Daddy, when I grow up I'm going to smoke just like you, or so goes family legend. Dad had returned from the army with a smoking habit. But he threw out the habit and his Marlboros at the thought of my joining him.
How about you - ever been a smoker? Tried to quit? Do you smoke second-hand?