Kyiv Post Editor's Opinion

KIEV, Ukraine -- Looking for good signs in 2009, amid all the gloomy economic news? Here’s one: There are no more outdoor cigarette billboards to poison the beauty of Kyiv and to promote deadly products that send 100,000 Ukrainians to their graves prematurely every year. That’s right, they’re finally gone and they won’t be missed.

Cigarette billboards are a thing of the past in Ukraine.

Parliament banned outdoor (as well as TV and print) ads promoting tobacco, effective on New Year’s Day, to comply with the global anti-tobacco treaty that Kyiv joined years ago.

A total ban on cigarette advertising will hopefully follow soon, so that Boryspil International Airport will stop being Winston Airport.

Before the ban, Ukraine’s outdoor advertising space was overrun with visual contradictions: Pictures of healthy, pretty and slim young people promoting cancer sticks wrapped in pretty boxes. Only libertarian extremists, the kind who sell cigarettes and booze to your children, could object to such a sensible ban.

As a journalist, I believe in free speech. I also don’t believe tobacco should be outlawed. Millions of smokers over thousands of years have shown that such a ban would not be accepted.

But society has every right to restrict the in-your-face marketing of an addictive product that kills millions of people each year and drives up health care costs by billions of dollars. Smoking also damages workers’ productivity and saps their health.

Now Ukraine needs to hike cigarette taxes — and continuously keep hiking them — to end its disreputable status as source of Europe’s cheapest smokes.

Not only will the cash-starved government generate much-needed revenue with tax hikes, but higher cigarette prices will encourage smokers — most of whom wish they didn’t smoke — to drop the habit. Only higher prices will cut the smoking rate, now among the world’s highest, with 40 percent of adults lighting up.

Ukraine should also end the practice of selling cigarettes from street kiosks, where they are easily purchased by children. Sales should take place indoors, in stores that are licensed, regulated and restricted in number.

Smoking should also be banned in all public places, including restaurants and bars.

If all these steps are taken, Ukrainians will find that — just as with the now-gone cigarette billboards — nothing will be missed.

Source: Kyiv Post