Russia moves toward strict smoking limits
By Kathy Lally,
MOSCOW — The lower house of parliament, which has raised the blood pressure of many Russians by banning American adoptions and restricting opposition rights, attempted to lower it to healthy levels Friday as lawmakers moved to pass a bill banning smoking in public places.
The idea was championed in the fall by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who said that smoking kills about 400,000 Russians a year and that smokers were not only hurting themselves but also setting a bad example and endangering children’s health.Three-fifths of men smoke here, one of the highest rates in the world. About 21 percent of American men smoke.
“Children should not breathe tobacco smoke or see smoking as something normal, which happens every day,” Medvedev said.
The ban was approved on second reading, with 442 in the 450-member State Duma voting for it. A third reading is required before it can be sent to the upper house for a vote. It would become law when signed by President Vladimir Putin.
The law would be phased in over a year, beginning June 1. It would eventually prohibit smoking in all public buildings, including hospitals, schools, stadiums, bars and restaurants, as well as in elevators and apartment building stairwells and on playgrounds and beaches.
Other limits would be imposed on sales, with displays of cigarettes prohibited and only price lists posted. Cigarettes now cost about $1.30 to $2.30 a pack, making them more affordable than in many countries.
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a Washington-based nonprofit group that is active in anti-smoking campaigns around the world, says that 60 percent of men and 22 percent of women smoke in Russia, along with one-fourth of children ages 13 to 15.
Tobacco-Free Kids has been offering assistance to Russian anti-smoking groups that have been pushing for the legislation, said Joshua Abrams, director of Russia and Ukraine programs for the group. He said three companies control 95 percent of the Russian tobacco market: British American Tobacco, Philip Morris and Japan Tobacco International.
Smokers have complained that the proposed law would violate their rights, but with the backing of Medvedev and Putin, who have argued that the nation must improve its health and longevity, it is almost sure to pass.
Controversy enveloped another Duma initiative Friday — the introduction of a bill prohibiting promotion of homosexuality among minors, criticized as an anti-gay bill. The bill offers a wide definition of promoting homosexuality, meaning that almost any public affirmation would be illegal, including parades and demonstrations. Gay men and lesbians could even be kept off television and radio broadcasts, and public displays of affection would become illegal.
Similar laws have been passed in St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Ryazan, Kostroma and Arkhangelsk. The bill being considered by the Duma would be in effect nationwide. Human rights activists argue that the intent is to threaten sexual minorities rather than protect children.
When a group of gay activists protested outside the Duma on Friday, they were attacked. Police detained 20 people.