Based on the supposition that tobacco is made up of terrible poison, in no case should one ever allow oneself to smoke it in any way, and I hope, that my lecture “On the dangers of tobacco” will be of use to someone. That is all.
-Anton Pavlovich Chekhov
As of June 1st, a lot has changed in the side-street bars on corner kiosks of Russia, a change that could only happen in the summer. Yes my friends, it’s finally here, a federal law prohibiting smoking indoors. Who could let this happen?
Well let’s look at the facts of smoking in Russia:
Russia is the 4th most smokingest nation on the planet by the number of cigarettes smoked per adult person per year.
It used to be first smokingnest nation by the number of smokers (if you believe the hard-to-believe 75% of adults are smokers statistics of a few years ago)
About 40% of the population smokes, 60%-70% of men, and 20+% of women over 15.
45% of teachers and doctors are smokers
92% of smokers with children admit that they smoke in the presence of their young children
In short, people smoke a lot in Russia.
On June 1st of last year, smoking was banned near schools, on playgrounds, in cultural centers (like museums), on public transport, elevators, and beaches. Even in the podyezd–that’s the stairwell where people go to smoke for a breather during spousal fights to vent to their awoken neighbors. The fine was between about 25 and 50 dollars.
But today, smoking is not allowed in restaurants, cafes, bars dormitories and hotels. Likewise, small supermarkets must hide the cigarettes from view, but may present a pack if a customer requests and street kiosks (the go-to stop for all things purchasable in Russia) are forbidden from selling tobacco. The new rules also cut back on cigarette advertising possibilities and further restrict approved areas for lighting up. The question is if the law is enforceable.
To prepare the citydwellers, Kazan’s police had a special task force raid the city fining people for smoking, primarily on playgrounds near children. The aim was to warn the population to take the statutes seriously.
So will the warning be heeded?
Well, it has worked and people have cut down on smoking in cities like, well, New York. However, many restaurants are setting up smoking areas, fenced in outside areas protected from rain with giant heaters and ventilation to allow smokers to continue their habits while on the territory of the restaurant. That’s pretty clever.
Getting a light in the old Soviet days involved a face-to0face passing on the of the fire from cig tip to cig tip. It’s too cold to take off your gloves and go to the pocket from matches. The word prikurit’ was described to me in gestures where someone put two ends of two index fingers together in such a way that I grossly misinterpreted the meaning of the word in a way not rated PG. It actually means to ask for a light.
For a country whose population is shrinking, it’s not surprising that the government is trying to grapple with national heath crises (I believe this one was Medvedev’s handiwork). Not many governments can make health laws work. It’s hard to imagine the US nationally banning transfats (though they’re moving toward it), removing HoHo’s from gas stations, and cutting out the too-tempting Denny’s menu pictures of foods that are combine a huge amount of antibiotics with an even larger portion of fatty substances scientifically proven to cause heart disease. Not that Michelle Obama isn’t trying
While it’s summer, stepping out to light up is not big deal; I’d dare say, it’s even pleasant. Come December this may change. Russia’s winter stopped Charles XII, Napoleon and Hitler. Now it will face its biggest foe of all, a foe with a home field advantage: Russian Smokers.