Unfortunately for most visitors, Russia has one of the worst track records in Europe when it comes to smoking. According to the government, approximately 60% of men and 30% of women are believed to be regular smokers, and the numbers have been rising particularly among youth. Although some attempts have been made to increase duties on packets of cigarettes, prices still remain laughably low, starting at around RUB 21 (about EUR 0.50) and therefore well within the reach of even the most cash-strapped segments of the population.
When the Soviet Union collapsed western tobacco firms saw a huge untapped market for quality tobacco – prior to this cigarettes were mostly of the domestic papirosy variety, with black tobacco that gave off an acrid but strangely pungent smoke and a cardboard tip that was pinched to create the filter. Most cigarettes sold now are of the western variety, with specific products targeted at men and women – many are marketed as light cigarettes in pastel-coloured packaging, or of the slims variety.
Another ubiquitous habit to be found in most restaurants, bars, and clubs, is the Arab-style waterpipe, or kalian as it is known locally. Many restaurants even include a list of kalian flavours in their menus, and this can run to dozens of flavours. Traditional pipe-smoking has also recently returned among some of the more fashionable urban hipsters.
The good news is that cafes and restaurants do usually offer non-smoking sections, but these are more often than not tucked away in the less salubrious parts of the establishment. What all this means for visitors is that wherever you go out for coffee, dinner or drinks you will likely be sitting in a smoky environment, so be prepared to wash your hair and jeans more often than you would back home!