Mar.01 - Russia is to become the latest country to ban smoking in public places, a decision dividing opinion in the former Soviet country where population numbers have been falling for two decades. Ciara Sutton reports
4 in every 10 adults in Russia smoke regularly - it has one of the highest smoking rates in the world. And the government wants to do something about it. From June smoking will be banned in public places followed gradually by restrictions in offices, stations and restaurants. The law will also restrict cigarette sales and prevent tobacco companies sponsoring events. The industry is worth around 20bln dollars and the move has upset big international brands although Russian firms believe demand for their products will remain high. Sergei Romanov is Director of Donskoy Tabak. (SOUNDBITE) (Russian) SERGEI ROMANOV, DIRECTOR, DONSKOY TABAK COMPANY, SAYING: "We ourselves say that smoking is unhealthy but there is a market, and there is demand on that market for cigarettes. So we will offer to the market what it demands." Cafe owners and their staff also fear the ban. (SOUNDBITE) (Russian) CAFE MANAGER DENIS, SAYING: "We certainly worry about this law because smokers come to our cafe. We try to do everything for those who don't smoke - like to create separate non-smoking zones and install air vents. But we know people are concerned as they are used to certain ways." Street kiosks too say they could go out of business - they've been struggling since a restriction on alcohol sales was introduced. But President Putin is on a mission . He wants to reverse a population decline that began after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. He hopes the ban will increase productivity and promote growth. World Bank figures show Russia's average life expectancy is 69 years - it's 78 in the United States.