How the USSR Reformed the Tobacco Industry and Cared for the Health of Smokers


Как в СССР боролись с курением и заботились о курильщиках

(Translated by Adrian Chan-Wyles PhD)


It is generally accepted that the basis of the anti-tobacco legislation in force in the Russian Federation is based on prohibitive measures restricting the rights of smokers. At the same time, Federal Law No. 15 “On protecting the health of citizens from the effects of surrounding tobacco smoke and the consequences of tobacco consumption” says nothing about the need to improve the quality of tobacco products enjoyed by tens of millions of Russians. But concern for the quality of cigarettes could bring much more health benefits to smokers than populist requirements for all smokers to stop smoking once and for all. Even the Ministry of Health recognizes that, despite all the administrative efforts, bans of smoking and advertising using “scary pictures” on cigarette packs, the number of smokers throughout Russia will not decrease much in the next five years.

The very recognition of this fact means that the measures taken to protect the health of citizens from the effects of tobacco consumption must be urgently adjusted. After all, if a significant proportion of the population does not intend to quit smoking, then taking care of the health of these millions of people is possible only in one way – to seriously address the issue of tobacco product quality. Uncompromising opponents of tobacco will immediately object: they say there are no good cigarettes, they all are harmful to health – with anti-tobacco campaigns using cunning to prove their point. This is not a true position as it rejects completely the different approach of reform as used in the 70s and 80s in the not too different Soviet Union, as a ‘Socialist’ means to protect the health of citizens from smoking. In the not so separate 70s and 80s of the last century, our country was no less a Social State than it is now (under Putin), but Soviet medicine provided patients not just with meagre services (as today), but rather with real help. In general, a person was cared much more comprehensively In the USSR than in Russia today. This was particularly true with smoking: at that time the problem was just as acute as it is now. Therefore, on June 12, 1980, the CPSU Central Committee and the USSR Council of Ministers adopted a joint resolution No. 706 “On measures to strengthen the fight against smoking.” What is the difference between the previous approach to the tobacco problem and the current one? First of all, by having an unlimited arsenal of administrative possibilities, the then Communist Party and Government somehow did not go by simply tightening the screws and eliminating smoking at airports and factories. The emphasis in the fight against smoking was made on the expansion of sanitary and educational work, promoting healthy lifestyles. In addition, the Communist Party and the Government were concerned with improving the quality of tobacco products consumed by Soviet citizens. “To consider the issue of reducing the production of filterless cigarettes and switching to the production of cigarettes mainly with a filter; master the production of new filters for tobacco products, ensuring maximum retention of nicotine, carbon monoxide and other harmful substances; to master the production of reconstituted tobacco before January 1, 1982, ensuring a significant reduction of harmful substances in it,” – as stated in Resolution No. 706.

Shortly before the release of this document, the Decree of the Council of Ministers of the USSR No. 390 of 05/28/1978 stated “On measures to improve the quality of tobacco” appeared. In particular, it prescribed: “To the Ministry of Agriculture of the USSR and the All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences named after V.I. Lenin to ensure the further development of research on tobacco, aimed at creating new highly productive varieties of tobacco …; to carry out industrial experiments to develop the technology of growing, harvesting and drying tobacco types of Virginia and Burley, and to obtain positive results, take the necessary measures to expand the production of these types of tobacco. ”

To solve the problem of improving the quality of tobacco products, various departments and ministries were mobilized. For example, the Ministry of Shipbuilding Industry was required to ensure the supply of equipment for quality tobacco processing. The Ministry of Tractor and Agricultural Engineering had to organize the mass production of new machines for working on tobacco plantations. The Ministry of Foreign Trade, which was entrusted with purchasing 500 tobacco cutting machines, 2500 tobacco cutting machines, 1500 sheet-cutting machines for tobacco harvesting and 50 sets of Balk-Küringing equipment for drying tobacco, was commissioned in the People’s Republic of Bulgaria. Finally, the Ministry of Food Industry, which was directly responsible for the quality of tobacco products, was ordered to switch to accepting tobacco directly from the producer farms.

This was called an integrated approach to solving the problem of protecting the health of citizens from smoking. As you can see, the Soviet leaders were well aware that even the most uncompromising struggle against smoking using all means of propaganda and prevention would not lead to a serious reduction in smokers in the country, which for many years drowned out hunger and tobacco deprivation. Therefore, along with the ban on smoking in general education, the Communist Party and the Government decided to provide their subjects with good tobacco without harmful impurities and questionable ingredients. This meant recognizing that smoking bad cigarettes without a filter is much more harmful for the health of Soviet people than smoking good cigarettes with new filters.

Of course, now, by the old Soviet example, with all our desire, we are no longer mobilizing the State Corporations to produce new equipment for cultivating the best sorts of domestic tobacco. Russian tobacco growing has long been ordered to economically grow, giving way to imported raw materials, the composition of which is largely kept as trade secrets. However, the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation (other regulatory agencies) have many opportunities for indepth and impartial checks on the quality of tobacco products manufactured in the territory of the Russian Federation by subsidiaries of foreign tobacco companies. There are also opportunities to force manufacturers not to compromise on the quality of cigarettes for the sake of economic gain. And the task of bringing domestic cigarettes in line with the quality level of the same European or American products should become the most important political project, a matter of national honour. The Russians have earned the right to both health and quality products that meet the best world standards. It is not a secret that the health of a smoker depends largely on the fact that he smokes. And if the anti-tobacco legislation really, and not for fun, declares the protection of the health of citizens from tobacco consumption, then the quality of tobacco products would be worth attending much earlier than the closure of the smoking room.

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