Yanukovych signs law to ban tobacco advertising

In what public health activists are hailing as a big victory for the nation, President Viktor Yanukovych on March 13 signed into law a national ban on all forms of advertising, sponsorship and promotion by the tobacco industry.

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Gauloises cigarettes advertising in Ukraine

The law, which will take effect in six months, prohibits all forms of advertising in print and also at the point-of-sale, such as street kiosks, where most customers buy their cigarettes. Moreover, the tobacco industry would be prohibited from employing people to work the streets and give away packs of cigarettes as promotions. It would also ban industry-sponsored nightclub parties that attracted young people. The law also forbids advertising on cigarette packs just as another law requiring stronger, graphic warnings on packs takes effect.

The measure strengthens previous bans on tobacco advertising on TV, billboards, radio and most print publications.

“This is a big victory for public health,” said Konstantin Krasovsky, one of Ukraine’s leading public health activists. “The experience of other countries shows that a comprehensive ad ban will lead to a decline in smoking, not as fast as with tax increases. The advertising ban will have more influence not on current smokers, but on deterring future smokers. Advertising is meant more to attract new customers.”

Krasovsky, who has been pushing for such an ad ban for more than 15 years, said the politics of public health have changed for the better in Ukraine.

During President Leonid Kuchma’s tenure from 1994-2005, Krasovsky said that tobacco-control activists had no allies in the administration and the tobacco industry had tremendous clout. Kuchma twice vetoed tobacco ad bans passed by parliament with support from all political forces, Krasovsky said. No ad ban was put into place under President Viktor Yushchenko’s term from 2005-2010 either.

While the tobacco industry in Ukraine remains strong, Krasovsky said, more people are realizing the harmful effects of smoking, which causes more than 100,000 premature deaths in Ukraine every year.

As a consequence, not only did members of all political parties support a tobacco ad ban, Krasovsky said that several influential members of Yanukovych’s administration and inner circle supported the legislation.

Among them, Krasovsky cited: presidential aide Hanna Herman; the president’s representative in parliament, Yuriy Miroshnychenko; and the president’s younger son, Viktor Jr., a member of parliament who forcefully and publicly came out in support of the advertising ban on March 5.

Unlike many other laws in Ukraine that get passed but remain unenforced, Krasovsky believes the advertising ban will work better than the laws requiring restaurants and bars to set aside areas for non-smokers.

“For advertising, it’s easier to enforce,” Krasovsky said. “It’s difficult to control 100,000 restaurants, but much easier to control 100 advertising agencies. We also expect the tobacco industry will find loopholes, but we will try to close these as much as we can.”

Combined with other public-health measures, Krasovsky said that Ukraine is already seeing a decline in mortality among middle-aged people due to changes in lifestyle. Statistics show that people are smoking less and drinking less alcohol, he said. While some 11 million Ukrainians, or 29 percent of the population, still smoke, that’s four million fewer than in 2005, Krasovsky said.

More progress can be made, Krasovsky said, if parliament adopts legislation that imposes a 100 percent ban on indoor smoking in all public places, including restaurants and bars. Moreover, he said, government should hike cigarette taxes more – both to raise revenue and because it is the most effective way to reduce smoking.

Ukrainian cigarettes remain among the cheapest in the world. Consequently, the tobacco industry makes more than are consumed in the nation. Many of the rest end up smuggled illegally to the West.

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