Public Smoking Ban
Prime Minister Dmitri A. Medvedev voiced support on Tuesday for a proposed ban on public smoking by 2015 in Russia, where close to a third of the population smokes. Standing in a sunlit glade in a video blog post, Mr. Medvedev also proposed banning advertising for cigarettes and increasing the sales tax on them to a “substantial level.” In Russia a pack of cigarettes typically costs less than $2.

He cast Russia’s toll from smoking at 400,000 lives annually.

“It works out that each year an entire large city disappears from the earth due to tobacco,” he said.

He added, “Our children should not breathe in cigarette smoke and see smoking on their playgrounds, in schools, universities, clinics and in cafes as something normal, routine.”

Mr. Medvedev’s bid appeared to be aimed at reclaiming some political relevance and popular support, at a time when many of the initiatives he championed during his tenure as president have been rolled back under Vladimir V. Putin, his predecessor and successor as president.

“Medvedev is severely limited in what he can do under Putin,” said Yevgeny S. Gontmakher, a prominent social scientist. “After all he is no longer the president. So to maintain his political prospects for the future as someone who has the sympathies of a large part of society, he campaigns on these kinds of popular topics.”

Mr. Medvedev has latched onto other popular causes in recent weeks. When a drunken man slammed his car into a bus stop last month, killing seven people and producing a wave of public outrage, Mr. Medvedev called for tough new fines and stiffer punishments against intoxicated drivers.

Yet efforts to raise taxes on goods like cigarettes and alcohol have angered Russians in the past, and Mr. Medvedev seemed to anticipate a blowback to tougher regulations on smokers.

“The government is not at war with smokers,” he said. “But we are making a stand against smoking.”

Under Mr. Putin, Russia’s paramount leader for the past 12 years, there has been a conscious effort to represent a picture of healthy, sober leaders. Mr. Putin and Mr. Medvedev are regularly shown on television exercising.

In his address, Mr. Medvedev singled out international cigarette companies for aggressively targeting women and children in Russia since the 1990s.

“Unfortunately, the government didn’t calculate the risks of foreign tobacco investment into the Russian economy then,” Mr. Medvedev said.

Muscovites questioned about the initiative expressed measured support.

“People don’t limit themselves anymore, and I do think that something needs to be done,” said Alexander Ignatienko, 58, who has smoked for 19 years but said he did not light up in restaurants, particularly when in mixed company. “But there has to be some intelligent limit. If they call the street a public place, then can I not smoke out here?”

Others said that any ban on smoking in public places would simply be ignored, much like Russia’s current laws against drinking alcohol on the street.

“People have been smoking forever, and now they think that they can just make a law and ban it?” Alexander Ivanov, a shopkeeper at a small tobacco kiosk in central Moscow, said Tuesday evening.

“I’m saying this as a smoker, but it will never happen.”

Leave a Reply