New Smoking Ban Stokes Debate
Both the tobacco industry and local businesses have expressed concern over the opportunities the new law presents for criminal activity.
Published: February 27, 2013 (Issue # 1748)
MISHA JAPARIDZE / AP
Russian smokers will soon be forced to take to the streets to enjoy a cigarette once the new law comes into force.
President Vladimir Putin signed a law on Monday prohibiting smoking in public places. The legislation is due to come into force in July 2013 with a ban in schools, hospitals, airports and the public areas of apartment buildings.
In July 2014 it will become illegal to smoke in cafes, restaurants and bars. Other provisions limit the display of cigarettes at the point of sale as well as sales from kiosks.
In a country with one of the world’s highest rates of smoking (40 percent of Russia’s adult population smoke), the effects of the public smoking ban will be widespread and complex, with ramifications for industry sectors such as hospitality.
In the U.K., for example, a significant number of pubs have closed since similar legislation was imposed in 2007. The pub culture that is such a feature of traditional British life doesn’t exist in the same way in Russia, but even so, some fear a similar outcome.
Pavel Shteinlukht, co-owner of the city’s popular Terminal Bar on Ulitsa Rubinsteina, expressed concern about the impact the new legislation would have on local bar owners.
‘The majority of our customers smoke,” he said, speaking to The St. Petersburg Times last Friday. “I think the destiny of these laws is unpredictable; they are so artificial for Russia... If they are totally implemented they will surely affect the bar business.”
The same argument is made by tobacco company Philip Morris International, one of three firms — the other two are Japan Tobacco Inc. and British American Tobacco — that account for about 87 percent of a market in Russia that is estimated at $14.5 billion.
“Public smoking restrictions are absolutely appropriate, including bans in many locations,” a company representative told The St. Petersburg Times last Friday.
“However, in restaurants, bars and entertainment establishments, proprietors should have the freedom to accommodate both non-smokers and smokers and decide whether to permit, restrict, or prohibit smoking.”
Both tobacco companies and local businesses have expressed concern over the opportunities the new legislation will present for criminal activity.
According to Simon Edwards at Imperial Tobacco, who responded to a request for comment from The St. Petersburg Times last week, “rapidly rising excise duties combined with excessive regulation increase the smuggling and counterfeiting of tobacco products.”
Alexander Lioutyi, Corporate Affairs Director at British American Tobacco Russia agrees.
“By introducing the retail display ban, law-makers simply put the legal product under the counter, the same place where illegal, and much cheaper cigarettes are,” he said, adding that “…the closure of kiosks (a traditional format of sale in Russia) is likely to trigger the appearance of illegal tobacco trade formats, such as street vendors...”
The potential negative consequences of the new legislation for businesses are not limited to illegal trading and smuggling, however.
Asked about the potential for graft, bar owner Steinlukht answered, ‘Yes, for sure. Unfortunately, any ban in our country is usually followed by a new wave of corruption. The smoking ban definitely has a potential for it. Why can’t bar owners decide for themselves what to do with smoking at their places?”
Proponents of the legislation argue that it will reduce the use of tobacco in society, improving Russians’ health and reducing medical costs.
In the U.K. the smoking ban has been credited with significant health benefits: reduced emergency admissions for heart attacks, a reduction in asthma in children and a decrease in premature birth rates, among others.
Attempts by governments to curb public smoking through the introduction of anti-smoking legislation are nothing new, and a number of countries and U.S. states have brought in anti-smoking laws since Adolf Hitler introduced the first modern public smoking ban in 1941.
The U.S. state of Minnesota introduced its own legislation in 1975, and in 1985 the city of Aspen in Colorado restricted smoking in restaurants.
Increasingly persuasive medical evidence prompted progressively tighter legislation throughout California in the 1980s, Peru in the 1990s, and then New Zealand, Ireland, and the U.K.
By 2010 Bhutan had banned the cultivation and sale of tobacco and 2011 Iceland was widely reported to be considering offering cigarettes on prescription only.
The idea of implementing such strong legislation to improve the health of the nation is not without precedent in Russia.
In May 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev announced an anti-alcohol campaign. As a result, alcohol was banned at official functions, the price of vodka increased and production was cut, leading to shortages and long lines at the shops.
Although the average life expectancy for men briefly increased, the shortfall was soon made up by illegal production.
By the early 1990s average life expectancy for men had fallen to 58 years.
Western visitors are surprised by the Russians’ dislike for Gorbachev, but the anti-alcohol campaign partly explains why.
In Russia today approximately 70 percent of all deaths are caused by cardiovascular diseases or cancer. But Gorbachev’s experience warns of the political risks of addressing alcohol or tobacco use.
The new legislation is likely to be unpopular with many of the government’s supporters.