Russia’s dire economics are forcing smokers to grow their own tobacco

After two years of recession, Russia’s economy finally started growing in 2017, but its people aren’t feeling richer. You can tell by looking at their cigarettes.

The solution to this smoldering problem? Grow your own tobacco.

Russians’ real disposable income fell for the fourth month in a row in October-a 1.3% drop compared to the same month last year. In September, real wages were 13% lower than in 2014, before the recession started, according to Moscow’s Higher School of Economics. Meanwhile, tax hikes on tobacco have made cigarette prices nearly double since 2013-a challenge to one of Europe’s heaviest-smoking populations.

“Several governors have told me that last year people started planting tobacco in their dachas and gardens”, Sergei Ryabukhin, the head of the Russian Senate’s budget and finance committee said last week (link in Russian). “When you go to a region, you realize with horror that people have turned to growing tobacco or shag. According to official statistics tobacco production has fallen 21% and people are smoking less. But in reality it’s not like that.”

Despite the country’s massive drop in cigarette sales (19.6% between 2013 and 2016), Russia was still the world’s third biggest market (pdf, p.2) for tobacco in 2016.

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