For A Healthy Ukrainian Nation

KIEV, Ukraine -- As medical researchers continue to publish more information on how to stay healthy in the West, makers of alcoholic beverages and tobacco products increasingly find themselves on the defensive.

Cigarette billboard advertising in Kiev

This has been going on for decades in North America and, more recently, Europe, fueled as much by the rising cost of health insurance as changing public attitudes.

Ukraine, like many of its immediate neighbors, has been slow to catch on to the trend. Drinking is deeply imbedded in the national culture, while smoking is widespread across class and gender lines.

Nevertheless, it is not unusual to encounter a non-smoking area in a Kyiv restaurant, and fitness centers are considered just as cool as night clubs among the capital’s more progressive inhabitants.

In short, the culture is changing. As often happens with fashion, tastes or public morals, change is being introduced from abroad, adopted by the cultural elite and filtered down to the masses.

In the West, the battle to decrease the use of tobacco and the abuse of alcoholic beverages has been bolstered by stiff legislation, as well as public information campaigns, to include restrictions on the way these products are advertised.

Ukrainian authorities have followed suit, or at least tried to give the impression of doing so – in their usual clumsy way.

The question is whether Kyiv’s administrative measures help things much or just create more headaches for the law-abiding and more opportunities for the corrupt.

As in the West, the advertisement of tobacco on TV is banned, and each package of cigarettes has a health warning printed on it. Restrictions on the promotion of booze are somewhat less stringent.

However, this is about as close as the parallels get.

For example, Ukrainian television audiences are subject to advertising by a wide variety of beer and vodka brands, whose producers say they are promoting the trademark, not the drink.

Then there is the warning that they are obliged to show at the end of the 30-second spots, with lettering so long and narrow that no one can read it anyway. What’s the point? To save the nation’s children, argue some lawmakers.

Then why don’t they start by enforcing legislation against the purchase of alcohol - or for that matter, cigarettes - by minors at corner kiosks? It might not hurt to crack down on the ubiquitous beer tents in the capital’s center during public events.

If Yushchenko and company were able to prevent drunken hooliganism in the center of Kyiv during the Orange Revolution, why can’t they do it now that they’re in power?

All the while, politicians like Mykola Tomenko, of the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc, continue to call for a ban on outdoor advertising of alcohol and cigarettes.

The explanatory note to Tomenko’s draft law says that the ban is motivated by the need to preserve the nation’s health and because of the lack of other means to solve the problem.

According to Tomenko, the implementation of the draft will reduce the consumption of alcohol and cigarettes by Ukrainian youth, who are mostly influenced by advertising.

Yet, the average Ukrainian of any age has a greater chance of getting lung cancer from inhaling the black soot that billows out of the exhaust pipes of Kyiv city trucks.

As for the kids, they might not be as tempted to drink if they could find a job. And if they do smoke, better they should smoke a real cigarette than the contraband tar sticks hawked by grannies on the capital’s streets.

Why pick on the advertisers, who would be crippled if Tomenko’s bill were passed?

Why? Because it’s easier to come up with a clumsy populist law instead of solving the real problem at issue; because politicians like Tomenko are apparently more adept at creating rhetoric than creating jobs; because all too many of Ukraine’s lawmakers are more inclined to solve delicate socio-economic issues with a broad sweeping and ultimately ineffectual resolution or decree than hammering out a workable solution with input from interest groups and business.

Doesn’t Tomenko know that advertising agencies generate jobs and tax revenues, as well as driving business in other sectors?

Substance abuse is a serious problem, here and elsewhere in the world, where the law and markets work much better. In Ukraine, the health and welfare of children and others is more at risk from the abuse of the law and the market than any brand of alcohol or tobacco, advertised or not.

Enforcing laws rather than just writing them, and supporting the market, as opposed to stifling it, are the kinds of things that create the kind of society that looks after its own health, without interference by the state.

Source: Kyiv Post


Anonymous said…
Automobile soot and industrial pollution are all dangerous. But there is absolutely NO scientific doubt that cigarette smoking inhalation is infinitely more dangerous than industrial pollution for the vast majority of people. Clearly miners suffer from all sorts of diseases. Industrial cites are dangerous. Industrial pollution can aggravate asthma but smoking active or passive is a greater contributor. Smoking only compounds all these problems.

Even secondary cigaratte smoke is dangerous. Smoking bans in New York City and in Ireland have made public places infinitely more pleasant for the majority of people.

The complaints have receded.

Sam kocsis said…
Where do people get their scientific information from!? Every major scientifice report espousing the dangers of second cigarette smoke has either been refuted or shown to be lacking the demanding standards of real scientific evidence. Obviously...; or no one would have survived their childhood in the 40's and 50's with two parents chain smoking away.

If you don't like smoking don't go to place that allows it. Or... advocate for a cigareete ban all together. Either way,get on with your life and let others get on with theirs. The world survived before you came along.