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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Aeroflot Decides to Kick Its Bad Habit

Aeroflot said Monday that smoking will be banned on all flights as of March, a decision that marks an abrupt turnabout for an airline that was just months ago fiercely defending smoking.

"This decision is dictated by the wish of passengers to buy tickets for nonsmoking flights and also by global tendencies in service," Aeroflot said in a statement.

Aeroflot intends to slap the ban on flights of less than five hours to 93 destinations as of Nov. 15 and make longer flights, such as those to the United States, smoke-free starting March 30.

"Now we are extending the number of nonsmoking flights. Our goal is to switch to all nonsmoking flights next year," said Tatyana Zotova, head of Aeroflot's marketing department.

Aeroflot began a clampdown on tobacco in 1999, forbidding smoking on flights of two hours or less. In July this year, it extended that ban to flights of up to four hours.

However, the ban has sometimes been loosely enforced, with flight attendants being able to do little more than scold smoking passengers.

Aeroflot said Monday it may fine violators or hand them over to the police.

The steps toward a total ban on smoking came after a recent survey of Aeroflot passengers found 66 percent strongly favored a complete ban, Aeroflot said. The survey, conducted by research agency Scanmarket in August, was of 3,000 passengers at Sheremetyevo Airport.

An earlier survey of passengers aboard Aeroflot flights found that 70 percent were against smoking, said Vyacheslav Yakhin, Scanmarket general director.

The August survey also analyzed the potential effect of the ban on Aeroflot's business and image in a country of heavy smokers.

Aeroflot and Scanmarket refused to detail those findings.

"We hope this measure will improve our image," Zotova said. "There could be a drop in passengers, but it will be minor. The majority of our international competitors already have the ban in place."

To ease discomfort on the part of smokers, Aeroflot plans to offer cigarette substitutes such as nicotine chewing gum on flights.

"Our medical center is looking into it," Zotova said.

Yulia Zhdanova, transport analyst with United Financial Group, welcomed Aeroflot's crackdown on smoking.

"It will reflect positively on Aeroflot's image," Zhdanova said. "Aeroflot does not want to remain a flying ashtray, considering that many airlines have already banned smoking."

Aeroflot for the past two years has been working to ditch its Soviet-era image of inhospitable flight attendants and mediocre service. Among the moves it has made have been upgrades of its menu and aircraft and an order to its flight attendants to greet each passenger with a smile.

However, smoking has been a sensitive point. Last year, Aeroflot mounted a battle for smoking rights for its flights to the United States after then-U.S. President Bill Clinton signed a law prohibiting smoking on all flights to and from the United States regardless of air carrier and country of origin. Aeroflot earlier this year persuaded U.S. transportation officials to make an exception for the airline.