Smoking room
© Kirill Kalinnikov / Sputnik
A smoking room at the World Trade Center, Moscow.
Despite protests from the Health Ministry, the Lower House committee for transport has approved a bill that, if passed, would allow the return of smoking areas in airports.

The sponsor of the bill, MP Sergey Boyarsky (United Russia), explained the motion by the fact that the current blanket ban on smoking in airports only increases the number of civil offences, because some smokers simply cannot stand prolonged deprivation regardless of punishment.

In addition, such illegal smoking subjects other people to tobacco smoke, potentially damaging their health, which would not happen in dedicated smoking lounges. Finally, smoking outside special areas in airports is dangerous as these facilities hold both highly flammable substances and a lot of visitors.

Boyarsky also noted that the World Health Organization's framework convention on tobacco control, which Russia signed in 2008, contains no recommendations on banning smoking in or near airports.

On Wednesday, the State Duma committee for transport and construction gave the go-ahead to the bill, saying that permitting smoking in specially equipped areas in airports was reasonable, considering statistics on civil offences and the harmful effects of passive smoking.

The Health Ministry, however, maintained its extremely negative attitude to the bill. "The realization of this motion could lead to violations of citizens' rights to a healthy environment and health protection in airport buildings, which is against article 55 of the Russian Constitution," the ministry spokesperson was quoted as saying by Interfax.

In July 2013, Russia introduced a law banning smoking in certain public places, including offices of state institutions, sports facilities, ships and trains, airports, railway stations and bus stops. One year later, the ban was extended to clubs, cafes and restaurants.

The sponsors of the ban said that it should help to fight widespread and hazardous smoking habits, which used to kill up to 400,000 Russians annually. They also quoted statistics which said that over 60 percent of men and more than 20 percent of women in Russia were smokers, and many of them developed the unhealthy habit from childhood.

In June 2017, Russian Healthcare Minister Veronika Skvortsova announced that the proportion of smokers in the Russian population had dropped from 39.4 percent in 2009 to 30.9 percent in 2016. The share of passive smokers dropped by over a third over the same period, she added.