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Russia: the lobbyist’s art is alive and well
  1. Anna Gilmore,
  2. Dina Balabanova
  1. London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK anna.gilmore{at}

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    Turkmenistan recently became the first country in the former Soviet Union to ban smoking in all public places. Having been advised to stop smoking following heart surgery in 2000, President Saparmurat Niyazov, Turkmenistan’s increasingly idiosyncratic and autocratic leader, introduced a fine—the equivalent of the minimum monthly wage—for anyone caught smoking in public.

    Governments elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, however, seem to take a more lenient approach to smoking, taking their tobacco control cues from the industry rather than their health advisors. In Russia, for example, the industry must be content at its recent success in ensuring that the massive Russian market remains free of effective tobacco control legislation. Despite the best efforts of a fledgling tobacco control community, the new federal law on limiting tobacco consumption signed at the end of last year and being introduced in stages through 2002, was reduced from an effective bill to one simply serving the industry. In the words of a reporter on The St Petersburg Times, the changes made to the draft between the first and second readings were “a textbook demonstration of the lobbyist’s art”.

    The ban on tobacco advertising included in the initial bill was removed when the industry argued that it should form a separate law. The single sentence the new legislation now affords this topic simply refers the reader to the federal law on advertising which in turn is complex and contradictory and will be impossible to enforce. Needless to say the previous 1995 tobacco advertising legislation was based on the industry’s voluntary code of conduct and includes only minor restrictions on content and placement of outdoor adverts and the timing of broadcast adverts. The original draft of the new bill also banned smoking in movies but the familiar escape clause to allow smoking if it is “an integral element of the artistic design” later crept in.

    The most useful remaining aspects of the bill are a ban on the sale of single cigarettes and packs of less than 20, a ban on vending machine sales, and an enforcement of the previous voluntary agreement on health warnings. Some restrictions on public smoking are set out but unfortunately, no clear system of enforcement is specified.

    Industry interests have triumphed once more. Russian streets will continue to be decorated with tobacco ads and the huge death toll that tobacco wreaks in Russia, as elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, looks set to continue.