CBS News Health Blog: Russians Urged to Smoke, Drink: Are They Crazy?

September 3, 2010
Posted by Neil Katz

(CBS) Times are tough all over, but one Russian government official thinks he has the perfect medicine to cure his country's economic ills - more smoking and drinking.

"If you smoke a pack of cigarettes, that means you are giving more to help solve social problems such as boosting demographics, developing other social services and upholding birth rates," Russian finance minister Alexei Kudrin said, according to the Interfax news agency.

"People should understand: Those who drink, those who smoke are doing more to help the state," he said.

Interesting advice.

The health impacts of smoking are well known - lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease and early death. And alcohol kills around half a million Russians each year, according to AFP.

Still Russians like to indulge. According to the news service, 65 percent of men smoke and the average Russian drinks 18 liters of booze each year, mostly vodka.

But Kudrin's advice is fundamentally about money. His ministry plans to double the currently low tax on cigarettes, reports AFP. Cigarettes now sell for around $1.30 a pack in Russia. By comparison, New Yorkers can pay up to $11 for a pack of smokes, with $5.85 going to government coffers.

In America, smoking taxes are often seen as a way to curb smoking, not just raise money.

A "15 percent decrease in teen smoking will result as initiation of this tax," Scott Santarella, CEO of the American Lung Association New York, said of a recent tax hike on cigarettes. "and a 5 percent adult smoking decrease from the tax itself."

WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Is it smart business for Russia to urge people to smoke to raise money for the government or just really irresponsible?