For the first time in Russian history, a cultural stronghold is being brought low by new government regulations: a recently signed ban on smoking in public. It’s been many years since America and several European countries have all put smoking bans into action; now Russia follows with a multi-step plan to gradually faze out a national habit.
It is estimated that roughly forty percent of Russians smoke and their overall health reflects it. It is the hope of Russian legislators that the ban will crack down on huge numbers of lung ailments in the country, leading to decreased spending on unnecessary medical expenses that could be used elsewhere.
Therefore, Putin’s signature on the legislature officially brings the first stages of the Russian smoking ban into effect on 1 June 2013. This initial stage will outlaw smoking in certain locations including airports, metro stations, entrances to train stations and apartment blocks, beaches, as well as playgrounds for children.
One year later, smoking in further confined public spaces will become illegal. This second faze will include transportation modes and vehicles such as trains and ships, in social areas like restaurants and bars, and in shops small cafes and hotels. Additionally, the law will raise the price of tobacco by introducing a minimum price of sale to the general public. It also calls for a cut-back of advertisement by tobacco products in order to halt potential new smokers’ awareness of availability.
Among Russian citizens, there is a general feeling of unhappiness. Alcohol has already been banned in restaurants after 11pm, causing restaurants to shut down early. Some believe that the ban on smoking will impact other social areas in the same way. Many others simply feel that the government should have no say as it is an infringement on their individual rights In any case, the newly signed legislation is in line with the World Health Organization’s wishes after a 2011 smoking report on Russia was published. It is a step towards cooperation on a global level. It is an acknowledgement that Russia as a country cares what the rest of the world thinks of them. It is a change towards a healthy national community.
In this way, while Russia’s smoking ban will attempt to change the habits of nearly seventy million smokers, it is impossible that it will not change the culture in some way. Moreover, what this change in Russian society could mean on a more tangible international, political level could spell out the beginning of a new Russian era. That is, if the Russian people will abide.