There's a Federal Program for That: The History of Russian Smoking

Last year NTU Foundation wrote about a World Health Organization meeting in Moscow, Russia. WHO – which is getting $114 million from the U.S. this year – convened the gathering to push a plan encouraging countries to increase taxes on tobacco up to 70 percent of retail prices. Incidentally, the meeting was closed to the public and reporters were kicked out. Now we have news of a federal grant to send a historian to study smokers in Russia.

The National Institutes of Health awarded $121,500 to Tricia Starks, an Associate Professor of History at the University of Arkansas, and “an expert on the history of tobacco use in modern Russia.” The funds will assist Ms. Starks with the completion of a book she is working on entitled Cigarettes and Soviets: The Culture of Tobacco Use in Modern Russia.

President Vladimir Putin has sought to crack down on tobacco use in Russia where 40 percent of citizens are regular smokers. In 2013 a strict law was enacted to ban smoking in public and set minimum prices for cigarettes.

Why the U.S. interest in Russia’s smoking habits? I’m sure they argue that the knowledge gathered will be generally useful for other nations. There has also been an effort to work more closely with Russia in certain areas. The U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission was established in 2009 to coordinate relations between the two countries including a health working group comprised of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Russian Ministry of Health and Social Development. (The working group provides yet another international platform to discuss items such as, “the impact of climate change on human health, including behavioral and mental health issues.”) However, the Commission’s website currently notes, “In response to Russia's ongoing violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, the United States has temporarily suspended several projects and meetings planned under the auspices of the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission.” Instead, all related funding was redirected into an aid package for Ukraine.

Starks’ funding was provided separately via a NIH National Library of Medicine (NLM) Grant for Scholarly Works in Biomedicine and Health, which is one of its total $60 million “Extramural Research” grant programs.  While it is well documented that there are numerous duplicative and overlapping federal programs, NLM is able to brag that this particular program is one of “three unique resource grant programs offered by no other federal agency.”

There are other Russia-related grants available from the Department of State as well:

Russian Business Leaders Program: $750,000

FY 2015 Visual and Performance Arts Programs: $300,000

FY 2016 Critical Language Scholarship Program: $400,000