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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cheap Cigarettes Criticized at Forum

Cheap cigarettes are making Russia a world leader in tobacco consumption and contributing to the country's demographic crisis, state officials said at an anti-tobacco forum Monday.

The officials threw out worrisome figures but offered little of substance to rectify the problem.

"While the death rate from smoking-related diseases is 400,000 deaths per year, the production of cigarettes has doubled in the last 10 years to 413 billion in 2006," Mayor Yury Luzhkov told the Health or Tobacco forum, an initiative of the State Duma.

Luzhkov said at least half of all teenage boys and 40 percent of teenage girls smoke, Interfax reported.

The World Health Organization estimates that 64 percent of adult men and 21 percent of adult women smoke in Russia.

Smoking is a key cause of the country's demographic crisis, Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov told the forum, Itar-Tass reported. He said tobacco products sell well because of their low cost.

Nikolai Gerasimenko, deputy chairman of the Duma's Public Health Committee, noted that a pack of low-end cigarettes costs about 50 cents in Russia, compared with $7 in Europe.

Gerasimenko complained that the amount of tar and nicotine in Russian cigarettes was higher than those sold in European countries, exceeding the norm by 30 percent to 40 percent for cigarettes with filters.

Russian law allows up to 14 milligrams of tar for filtered cigarettes, while in Europe the permissible level is no more than 10 milligrams, said Irina Bakhtina, a spokeswoman for Philip Morris. She said the tobacco giant was trying to bring its Russian cigarettes in line with European standards.

At the forum, chief epidemiologist Gennady Onishchenko called for pictures of lung cancer to be added to warning labels on tobacco products. He said the warning labels also should be made bigger. Now they cover only 4 percent of the packaging.

The Duma on Friday gave tentative approval to legislation that would restrict smoking in restaurants and several other public places. In 2002, it approved a law that restricted smoking in government buildings, workplaces and universities. Both pieces of legislation, however, do not impose penalties on smokers who violate the law.

The forum was held ahead of World No Tobacco Day on Thursday. The WHO says about 5 million people die of smoking-related diseases each year worldwide -- that is one every eight seconds -- and that the number of people will double by 2020 if current smoking patterns continue.