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Russia Pledges to Cut Number of Smokers by 2050

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev wants to cut the number of smokers by 10 to 15 percent by 2050. Those are huge ambitions considering 40 percent of Russians light up. So why is it still so popular to smoke in the former Soviet Union? According to some, much of it has to do with the advertising and branding of cigarettes.

Elena Zlatoustovskaya sits in a popular Moscow restaurant. She looks cool, sleek and sexy holding an ultra-slim cigarette between her fingers. At least that is what marketing wizards would have you think. And Zlatoustovskaya should know. She's a top executive at the Moscow office of public relations firm Edelman.

"Smoking is quite traditional thing in Russia. A lot of ladies are smoking in Russia. This is a really big problem for Russia. A lot of people are accustomed to smoking really cheap cigarettes with low quality tobacco. They are just accustomed to smoke," she said.

The World Health Organization says Russia is one of the smokiest nations in the world with more smokers per capita than Indonesia or China.

And, according to Zlatoustovskaya, advertisers are using every weapon in their arsenal to get even more people lighting up. It is not unusual to see pretty young women standing on some of the city's most popular streets, like Tverskaya, offering cigarettes to lure people in.

"Sampling is very popular. So you're just walking around the street and a girl near the metro station comes to you and says we have new cigarettes. They will pay a lot of attention to that kind of action, that kind of promotion," she said.

That type of street-level promotion seems to be doing the trick. In 2009, Russia was the largest market worldwide for slim cigarettes, which are generally targeted towards young women. These types of cigarettes often feature flowers on their packaging. Aromatic cigarettes also are the latest thing.

One of Philip Morris' brands, Virginia Slims Uno, in both black and white is meant to fit a woman's "mood." Ads for the cigarettes feature hip, sophisticated, model type-looking women on the go.

According to Phillip Morris, their slim cigarette sales jumped 91 percent from 2006 to 2009.

Those numbers have put the Kremlin on alert. Russia has pledged to cut the number of its smokers by up to 15 percent by 2050.

Sophia Malyavina is with the the country's Ministry of Health. Malyavina says the government is cognizant of the fact that many young people are being targeted by cigarette branding and the government is working on the problem. Here she is addressing the situation on Russia's state-run, English-language television channel, Russia Today.

She says the government is aiming for a total ban on smoking in public places starting in 2015. Plus, Malyavina says that officials are discussing raising the tax on tobacco. She says that cigarettes are too affordable, especially for young people.

Meanwhile, the government has also banned cigarette ads on television and has introduced warning labels on cigarette packages that read "Smoking Kills," and that smoking can cause heart attacks, strokes, death and impotence, among other things.

The World Health Organizarion wants Russia to do more, as other countries have done, like put graphic images of smoke-ravaged lungs on cigarette packages.

What does PR director Zlatoustovskaya think about the possibility of that happening?

"I don't think they would do that. They get very good taxes from that so I don't think they will decide and say we care about our population…we need them to be more healthy. That is why we will do our best; we will do whatever we need to do just to keep them healthy. Now, I don't believe in that."

Meanwhile, Russia's Health Minister, Tatiana Golikova, says the country has to do everything possible to combat the country's high smoking rate, so she is all for the gloomy pictures.