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Women Talk: Smell Flowers, Not Smoke

© Photo : Mikhail Kharlamov/Marie Claire RussiaSvetlana Kolchik
Svetlana Kolchik - Sputnik International
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I can’t believe this is actually happening. A long-awaited bill meant to make the smoker's life a nightmare is finally under review in the Russian parliament!

I can’t believe this is actually happening. A long-awaited bill meant to make the smoker's life a nightmare is finally under review in the Russian parliament! If a miracle happens and the bill becomes a law, then in a matter of few years, by 2013-2015, people would not be allowed to smoke in public places in Russia, including bars, restaurants, hotels, nightclubs, transport terminals, even detention facilities. The regulations on tobacco product sales would tighten up a great deal as well, with cigarette sales being restricted to special sections in large stores without being displayed and with a two to three-fold retail price increase minimum (today one can get a pack of cigarettes here for as little as the equivalent of 20 cents). The upcoming measure would also ban all tobacco-related ads, thus gradually limiting the longtime predominance of the country’s smoking culture.

Dozens of countries, including such heavy smoking cultures as Turkey, Italy, Spain and China, have long implemented anti-smoking laws. But if this takes place in Russia, I think it would be a revolution. Not because our nation smokes more than most other countries (about 44 million, or at least 40% of the adult population shares the bad habit here, with every third woman aged 19-44 being a smoker). A ban on smoking in public places could be the beginning of a major mentality shift here. It could be the shift towards greater responsibility towards ourselves, the people around us and rules and laws in general. Isn’t genuine civil society when one respects the rights and freedoms of others as much as our own?

I am personally really looking forward to a time when one can finally start breathing freely while eating out and not have to worry about children inhaling secondhand smoke all over the place.

For me, a night out in Moscow almost always means coming back home with a headache and my hair and clothes stinking of smoke. The non-smoking sections available in some city restaurants are usually small and stuffy, with poor ventilation, and located in the lousiest parts of most venues.

I myself have not ever smoked a cigarette but it seems that I’ve been smoking my entire life. I grew up in a heavy, ever-present cigarette fog in our tiny Khrushev-era apartment, as both of my semi-bohemian parents, my father a journalist and mother an artist, have been tobacco-dependent since youth. I also caught the era when smoking was still allowed in the newsroom. I’ll never forget our cramped low-ceiling room at the Argumenty i Fakty weekly newspaper, where I had worked as a reporter while still in college. By lunchtime, the air in that room would literally become grey as the fellow journalists lit up one cigarette after another in a frantic search for inspiration. I had to seek refuge in other departments (no cell-phones or laptops existed back then so I couldn’t go out to work elsewhere), but to no avail, smoking went on everywhere. I just wonder why I didn’t pick up the habit myself back then.

But even though various polls show that a majority of Russians do support radical restrictions on public smoking, I fear it’s not going to be easy to implement. The tobacco lobby is quite powerful here and there’s also the newly-emerged Smokers’ Rights movement seeking to halt the bill's review in order to make it less rigid and “more accommodating” to the legion of cigarette-dependent people.

Besides, smoking is just such a social thing in Russia. I chatted about the prospective ban to my many smoker friends and most said they would embrace it. However, many confessed they couldn’t help lighting up because: everyone smokes here and it looks and feels so damn contagious; it’s a cheap and accessible diversion; smoking anywhere is penalty-free in Russia. Even so, when these cigarette lovers do go to countries where smoking in public places is restricted or illegal, they either significantly drop their daily use or quit completely – until they come back home.

“Smell Flowers, Not Smoke,” read a sign at the entrance of New York City parks indicating that cigarettes were no longer legal there. The law, which Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed last year, banning smoking in the city’s public parks and beaches, stirred a sizeable wave of protest at first but eventually even free-spirited New Yorkers had to comply. Few countries have made a smooth transition towards a gradual stigmatization of the smoking culture but over time the personal and socio-economic benefits of healthier, addiction-free living took over. Less fires, higher work productivity, a drop in health bills to pay for smoking-related illnesses, an increased tax flow due to the rise in excises and what not. Numerous studies confirm that smokers facing serious restrictions start consuming less tobacco and quit at much higher rates. Youngsters, who normally love copying the behavior of adults, are also less likely to become habitual smokers in the societies where cigarette use is highly restricted.

In today’s globalized world, the anti-smoking trend is too strong for Russia not to catch up with sooner or later.

The views expressed in this column are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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Russia has always been referred to as feminine and Russian women have been one of the most popular stereotypes of this nation, both positive and negative. But is this an all-male fantasy? Here is a hip, modern, professional and increasingly globalized Russian woman looking at the trends around her, both about her gender and the society at large. She talks and lets other women talk.

Svetlana Kolchik, 33, is deputy editor-in-chief of the Russian edition of Marie Claire magazine. She holds degrees from the Moscow State University Journalism Department and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has worked for Argumenty i Fakty weekly in Moscow and USA Today in Washington, D.C., and contributed to RussiaProfile.org, Russian editions of Vogue, Forbes and other publications.

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