Smoking in the EU and the US is something that we don’t do, or if we do, we feel bad about. In big bad Russia, smoking is still very much accepted. Can introducing tough new legislation, the likes of which has just been introduced, change this? Or is this attempt to be good, like the West going impracticable and unnecesary? Joining the Voice of Russia's EcoPlus in the first of a two part series on the smoking ban is Alexander Lioutyi, Corporate Affairs Director of Russian Division at British American Tobacco and Dmitry Petropolsky, deputy head of International projects at the Yurvista law company.
Can the new law be enforced?
Dmitry Petropolsky: Yes, I think it can be enforced. And it is a very good decision for our President, because he showed us that he cares for the health of the nation. I would say that this law will be more harsh, than the previous one that was taken last year. And as we can see, the smoking ban will be spread on different sides of peoples’ lives and lives of smokers.
What do you mean more harsh? Do you mean that the fines are heavier or what?
Dmitry Petropolsky: To my mind, the previous version of this law could be ignored by people. And as you can see, people are smoking. So, nobody cares about it. This law is a more strong decision to ban smoking.
How is the new law going to be enforced?
Dmitry Petropolsky: It is a very interesting question, because actually I have no idea how they are going to enforce this law. There are no special people who will provide such enforcement. And perhaps, in restaurants they will have something like secret guests, who will check this and then punish and fine the restaurant holders and even their visitors, perhaps.
What is the position of the tobacco companies?
Alexander Lioutyi: I can tell you from the point of view of my company and the tobacco industry. We are not against the regulation. We manufacture a product, which is sort of controversial, but we believe that the regulation should be balanced, should be evidence-based and, most importantly, should take into account the realities – cultural, traditional, social, economic realities of the country.
In that context we believe this particular law is too restrictive, it doesn’t take into account the realities of Russia. Let me pick up on something that you were saying. Public place smoking ban in HoReCa. First of all, both of you were right, in some cases it is not clear how these measures will be implemented and enforced.
Let’s look at the Russian climate. Such restrictions are successful in countries like, say, Spain or Turkey, when smokers can go outside and have a smoke in the warm climate. And basically, that is not a problem, they just go outside cafes. But it is hard to say how the law will be enforced in Russia, when in some parts of Russia you are going to have minus 20-25 or even 30 degrees. I'm just afraid that there may be more respiratory diseases.
So, I think the more sensible thing would have been to create smoking rooms in these establishments, totally isolated from the working areas or catering areas, so that it doesn’t affect waiters and other personnel, very well ventilated, so that smokers can smoke in comfort and non-smokers can sit in these cafes and restaurants and not be bothered.
You’ve mentioned that the law actually has been working for a year. Let’s take smoking bans in airports. They have been introduced, but in one or two particular airports there are still smoking rooms. In the other airports, where there are bans, people tend to go to all sorts of places, including public lavatories. Is that a good thing? It just shows you that when the law is too restrictive, a lot of people will find a way around it. So, enforcement is going to be an issue.
I’ll give you another example. Maybe, the people who were writing this law had the best intentions of cutting down on smoking incidents in Russia. So, form June 1 they banned kiosks. So, kiosks cannot sell cigarettes. Let’s just imagine, I'm a long-time smoker. Every afternoon I walk out of the metro station and I normally used to buy cigarettes in the nearby kiosk. Now these kiosks have disappeared. Do you think I will immediately overnight stop smoking? No way! I will just go a little further to a supermarket, buy cigarettes in bulk and my smoking incidents will continue to be pretty much the same.
But on the other hand, where there is a demand, there is a supply. Some people will find out – okay, this kiosk has disappeared, maybe we can supply this smoker with other means. So, what we fear is that all those street venders, we used to call them ‘babushkas’ in the 1990’es, who were selling these products near the metro stations, will reappear. And these people don’t care what sort of product they sell, whether it is legal or illegal. They don’t care whom they sell to, whether it is underage or over the age. They don’t care whether it is counterfeit or illicit. As a result, what started to happen in Russia, the growth of illicit trade will continue to grow.
Is this a ban on personal freedom? Maybe, the general trend, the direction is correct, but the measures used are too extreme.
Dmitry Petropolsky: Yes, the measures are too extreme. And to my mind this law is aimed at preventing non-smokers, for example, the young people or those people who do not want to smoke, from smoking. But to smoke or not to smoke is a choice of the person. If you are a smoker, that is your right to smoke. You should have your right and place to smoke.