Sunday, 1 April 2012

Smokin' an' drinkin'

On the whole, I like Moscow. 


In Russia, 70% of men smoke and 40% of women (2010 Health Survey report by Russia’s Health & Social Development Ministry). This is a lot compared to my country, where there has been considerable progress towards stamping out this vile drug addiction.

Unfortunately there is no restriction on smoking in restaurants or cafes in Russia and this is a bit limiting for us as I will not eat or drink in a place that is toxic and stinks. Many restaurants have no smoking areas (ask for ‘ne kooreesh’ if you really must eat in one), but often this is just an arbitrary line in the carpet. Regardless, the World Health Organisation warns that even in non-smoking areas the airborne toxic chemicals can be up to 4.5 times the recommended safe level. Fortunately there are a number, though not enough, cafes and restaurants that do not permit smoking in Moscow.

I was interested to find on our recent trip to Turkey, where people also puff like chimneys, that smoking is not permitted in enclosed public spaces such as restaurants. 

The burden on the Russian health system must be enormous. Interestingly, though, the majority of men don’t get the opportunity to die of smoking-related diseases. Alcohol usually gets them first.

The average Russian drinks more than the equivalent of 18 litres of pure alcohol each year. That figure includes the entire population. Extract kiddies and non/moderate drinkers from the average and it must be closer to an incredible 30 litres a year. Putting this in a perspective wine drinkers will understand, the average 750 ml bottle of wine contains about 11% alcohol. That’s about .0825 mls of alcohol. Thirty litres of alcohol is thus equivalent to 363 bottles of wine. In other words, the average Russian is socking away the equivalent of roughly a full bottle of wine every single day. Having seen shelves of cheap vodka in the supermarkets, I can believe it. A large bottle of vodka costs $8Aus or less. According to a 2009 study, alcohol accounts for 52% of Russian deaths. In addition, about 14,000 traffic deaths each year are caused by drunk drivers (plus 60,000 serious injuries). 

An alcoholic's paradise. Supermarket shelves loaded with vodka. There were more in the next aisle. Not to mention the bottles stacked in the bargain bins. I'd never seen anything like it - but this is common in Russian supermarkets.

In 2009 the average life expectancy for men was 58 years. That’s the average. It means, of course, that half the males die before they reach 58.

Finally, a sobering word to any smokers reading this. Many years ago my father, who was a smoker, complained of shortness of breath. He was found to have a collapsed lung. The other was full of cancer. He spent the next 12 months, between operations and chemotherapy, dying in a manner more ghastly than you can possibly imagine. His generation did not know the hazards of smoking. Now, with endless warnings about the effects of tobacco, I cannot understand why any person would self-administer a substance so deadly that it can, among other horrible things, collapse lungs. If you must take poison, do yourself a favour and use cyanide. In return it will, unlike tobacco, do you the favour of killing you quickly and painlessly.

Oh, and by the way, the famous Marlboro Man from those old cigarette ads – all three of the people who appeared as cowboys in those ads, Wayne McLaren, Darrell Winfield and Dick Hammer, died of – you guessed it - lung cancer.


  1. This is very sad. Alcoholic tycoons is cooperated with the government, which lobbies for their interests.. That's why this crap is so cheap. Look at the prices for cigarettes.. it is 7-10 times cheaper than is the rest europe..

  2. I understand what you are saying Michael. Cheap vodka and cigarettes don't help. But in the end, a person who buys vodka from a supermarket and then drinks it has to take responsibility for the decision they have made.

  3. Most of smokers and heavy drinkers are aware of harmful effect of their addiction on their health. Still only few can resist the temptation because of biological, social and psychological factors. Someone wants a dose to stimulate their brain, others want lo be like everyone around, while thirds believe that bad things happen to others only. Giving these dependant people responsibility to make this kind of choice is like giving a child a chocolate and ask not to eat it because it is no good for teeth.

    I agree with Michael that Russian government has enormous responsibility for this terrible situation. Although, it is not unique. Other countries have more or less the same issues.

    Colin, you probably know better than me that even more human rights oriented Australia does not fully rely on reasoning of smokers and drinkers. It introduces such harsh measures as plain packaging for cigarettes, smoking ban in public places, and alcohol consumption restriction for Aboriginals.

    My point is that a good government should lead movement towards complete ban of selling and smoking tobacco as well as strong alcohol consumption reduction despite major population (as in Russia) being against it.

  4. Point taken, Evegny.
    I think what irks me most about this issue, I mean the smoking, is that non-smokers, such as myself, can't enter many cafes or restaurants in Moscow without having to tolerate toxic and stinking tobacco fumes. I know some people would argue that smokers have as many rights as non-smokers, but I'd argue in return that non-smokers harm no one, whereas smokers put the health of non-smokers at risk. If I walked into a restaurant and lit a stick of incense, I'm sure I'd be shown the door.

  5. Thank you for a great blog entry.

    I suspected that this happened in Russia and now I know. So are the flashy nightclubs completely clouded with smoke. I am not sure I want to be exposed to so much smoke as I have rather sensitive asthma.

  6. Can't tell you about night clubs, D, they don't interest me. My guess is they'd be quite smokey though. But don't be too put off visiting Russia, if that's what you a planning, because of it - smoking is not permitted on public transport (though they do have open smoking areas in the major airports, which surprised me) and there are some, though not enough, non-smoking cafes and restaurants. The situation here is a bit like Australia 60 years ago.

  7. I'm so glad that here in the UK, smoking isn't allowed in public spaces any more. It makes going out for a meal so much more enjoyable. So I understand your frustration at a lack of places to go that are no smoking, but just remember it's worth it!

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