Will Russians Ban Public Smoking?
- Nov 16, 2012 | Gail Cole
Russian Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev is leading a campaign to ban public smoking in Russia. He is not alone. The Russian government has submitted a law to parliament that would prohibit the sale of cigarettes at street kiosks, limit tobacco advertising, and ban smoking in public places." With both Mr. Medvedev and President Vladimir Putin behind the measure, it is unlikely to die in parliament next year. If is passes, the proposed changes could take effect by January 2015.
Almost one third of Russians smoke, and smoking is currently allowed everywhere: cafes, clinics, playgrounds, and even schools. The Wall Street Journal reports that "[a]bout 400,000 Russians die each year from diseases linked to smoking… ." As Mr. Medvedev points out, that is like losing the population of a small city, every year. Sobering news, indeed.
Yet the Prime Minister does not wish to alienate smokers. He has said, "The government is not at war with smokers. But we are making a stand against smoking." He would like to see the sales tax on cigarettes increase to a "substantial level." The Kremlin is also preparing to get tough on the big tobacco companies that "control 90% of the Russian market. " Those companies won't just sit back quietly and let that happen. They are already lobbying heavily to alleviate the impact on their business.
In the general public, there is at least cautious support for such a measure. One man told a reporter that "[p]eople don't limit themselves anymore, and I do think that something needs to be done. … But there has to be some intelligent limit. If they call the street a public place, then can I not smoke out here?" Other aren't bothered by the prospect of a ban on smoking in the street, assuming that it will go ignored. (The New York Times).
Smokers will not be the only people impacted by the law if it passes. Street kiosks, which are widespread in Russian cities, sell a lot of cigarettes. One man who owns eight street-side kiosks in Lipetsk said that "smokes and brew" account for half of his total sales. He doesn't think his business will be able to survive if the government stops him from selling cigarettes. Indeed, he is already worried about the upcoming ban on selling beer at kiosks, which is set to take effect January 2013. It has been illegal to sell vodka from street kiosks more more than fifteen years.
If owners of street kiosks feel like their business is being singled out by the law, it's because it is. The government claims the kiosks "make tobacco and beer easily available to young people, who can't legally buy either before age 18." There is little enforcement of that law at kiosks, or at least, little government oversight. While various government officials have said kiosks are "a haven for tax cheats," supporters of kiosks -- including tobacco companies -- say threatening them could "lead to a disappearance of tens of thousands of small businesses." (Bloomberg.com).