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Russia’s health ministry on Tuesday took more severe steps against cigarette smokers, closing hundreds of shops that sell the highly addictive active ingredient in tar-packed cigarettes known as cleanliness cigarettes.
Covid-19 outsells most other brands in Russia by more than three to one, but two years of poor uptake and a crackdown on high-end brand L.K.B, its major competitor, have helped increase demand for cleanliness cigarettes.
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The number of cleanliness brands sold in Russia jumped from an estimated 446 in 2016 to 767 last year, according to data from the health ministry.
The health ministry said that a ban on new stores selling cleanliness cigarettes would become effective from Tuesday, with the closure of hundreds of shops due to be decided in the coming weeks.
Shops closed due to poor sales, in violation of other restrictions, must be returned to government control, said Sergei Epelikov, deputy head of the health ministry’s medicine committee.
The government estimates the ban will prevent more than 340,000 tonnes of cigarettes and 756 tonnes of tar from entering the country by the end of 2025.
That estimate is largely based on results from a pilot study where a total of 800 tobacco retail outlets in 16 Moscow municipalities were inspected between March 2016 and December 2017.
In one of the pilot sites, the health ministry found that the average cigarette price increased by 35%, the number of cigarettes per sale by 82%, while the number of sales per worker increased by 6% per week.
Smokers who use cleanliness cigarettes sometimes switch to so-called “super good” cigarette brands because they do not contain any tar and have a shorter lifespan, allowing them to be smoked within an hour of smoking.