Ukraine’s Battle with Smoking not Always Effective

By Eugene Dovbush
Eugene Dovbush
Eugene Dovbush
April 2, 2013 Updated: April 3, 2013

Epoch Times Photo
‘Smoking causes lung cancer.’ (Rada.gov.ua)

Epoch Times Photo
'Smoking causes aging.' (Rada.gov.ua)

 Ukraine, once ranked 4th in the world for highest number of smokers, is changing tactics to push smokers to kick the habit.

Now cigarette packs include different graphic warnings and statements: a photo of lung cancer is supplemented with the message, “Smoking can cause slow and painful death”; a photo of a woman’s face is shown next to a skull with the words, “Smoking causes aging”; and a photo of a woman pushing an empty stroller accompanies the words, “Smoking affects women’s ability to give birth.”

Olga Sukhina, a representative of Public Organizations Coalition for Ukraine Free from Tobacco Smoke, says it’s a positive step to require tobacco companies to show the consequences of smoking, “because saying something to a person is one thing, but letting them see the consequences with their own eyes is another.”

In the last quarter of 2012, Ukraine adopted three laws that struck at tobacco companies. On Sept. 26, the country banned cigarette ads and on Oct. 4 introduced the graphic warnings on cigarette packs. From Dec. 16 all restaurants and bars banned smoking on their premises.

The results during the four months starting in September showed 6 billion fewer cigarettes were sold than in the same period the previous year, according to state experts.

As smoking issues expert Konstantin Krasovskyi from the Ministry of Health told The Epoch Times in a telephone interview, 26 billion cigarettes were sold in the last four months of 2012, compared to 32 billion over the same period in 2011. He believes the figures confirm the effectiveness of the adopted measures.

Valentyn Mykhailyk, an experienced caterer and teacher at Kyiv National University of Trade and Economics, says that the law banning smoking in restaurants and bars has effectively improved the atmosphere for customers and workers alike. He points out that non-smokers report being happier since the new law, especially waiters and barmen who are always working in these environments.

Mykhailyk said that when he used to work as a waiter he would feel bad at the end of the night. “People are smoking in a hall while you’re serving them, and this harms your health. My students who work in bars say that working became easier, and their clothing doesn’t smell of smoke now,” he said.

While the Health Ministry claims there’s been a decrease in the number of cigarettes sold, Olena Razumova, a PR manager for supermarket chain Kyshenya, which owns 20 supermarkets in Kyiv, stated that in recent months the number of cigarettes sold has not changed.

She says that if somebody has been smoking more than 2 years, he or she knows which cigarettes to buy, and the absence of cigarette ads doesn’t influence his or her choice.

Her view agrees with what Svitlana, a smoker from Kyiv, says. She declined to give her surname so people would not find out she smokes. When asked whether a graphic photo on cigarette packs somehow motivated her to smoke less, she answered: “No, it doesn’t. I clearly understand that there are risks. That’s my choice.”

Meanwhile, big tobacco companies say they have suffered setbacks since the new laws.

Natalia Mykolayenko, a PR manager for Imperial Tobacco says the company had to stop all the social programs it supported in Ukraine, including projects to preserve the cultural heritage and historic places of Kyiv, and to finance world-famous sites in the Ukrainian capital.

She also thinks that the smoking ban has had a negative effect on restaurants—their revenue has fallen, so the state is also receiving less tax money, she says.

As to whether her company sold fewer cigarettes, Mykolayenko said that currently there is no such data.

The World Health Organization says tobacco kills 6 million people a year, and if significant action is not taken, the number of deaths could surpass 8 million by 2030. As a result, many developed countries have adopted strict laws related to smoking in public places and cigarette advertising. Ukraine, which not long ago occupied 4th place in the world for number of smokers, has seen a dramatic change since adopting these measures—it is now ranked 29th.