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With its new strong tobacco control law going into effect as of 1 June, Russia is poised to become a leader in the global fight against smoking – but how can the law be enforced? How, in a country where one-third of the people smoke and some 80% are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke? These are the challenging questions that face the National Ministry of Health team and others across the country charged with enforcement. A recent Union workshop gave them both the tools – and confidence – that they will need to succeed.

Participants in the Smoke-Free Implementation and Enforcement Workshop, organised by The Union Russia Office and WHO Country Office last month, arrived with a wide range of opinions about their ability to make the smoke-free public places mandated by Russia's new law a reality. Those who already had experience working with The Union's support were optimistic and excited, while some of the others were more uncertain – even skeptical – about their chances of success. Russia has a very entrenched smoking culture; and it is the world's second largest tobacco market.

The workshop faculty introduced the principles underlying enforcement mechanisms, enforcement techniques and strategies, advocacy and communication tools and ways to monitor and evaluate their progress. Skepticism began to give way to confidence that the Russian law should and would be respected and met with compliance. The smokefree success stories from other countries with a ubiquitous smoking culture, such as Turkey and the Ukraine, demonstrated that Russia too can succeed.

The workshop was timed to take place prior to the new law coming into effect, because experience in other countries has shown that full enforcement of smokefree laws is critical to establishing their credibility, especially immediately following their enactment. The first stage of enactment of the new law begins in June 2013. Strong enforcement is essential to protect people against second-hand smoke exposure.

For those attending the workshop, the timing helped them to build momentum in advance for their new role. Participants included policy-makers responsible for enforcement at the strategic level, the national and regional teams responsible for implementation, and strategically important stakeholders, such as civil society groups and tobacco control advocates. They were drawn from the regions where The Union has been or will be working, such as Arkhangelsk, Krasnoyarsk, Sochi, Krasnodar, St. Petersburg and Tatarstan.

One of the strongest points of the new law is the power allocated to the regions to strengthen smoke-free provisions on a regional level. Thus, the training aimed to empower the participants to return home and push for even stronger regional regulations, as well as to become champions of the new law.

Russia's passage of a comprehensive tobacco control law reflects ever-growing concern over the high toll of tobacco use, which kills nearly 400, 000 Russians each year. It may also mark the beginning of a new era when large middle- and low-income countries join global efforts to combat the tobacco pandemic.

 

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