Limits On Lighting Up

Having a cigarette with your morning coffee may soon become a forbidden pleasure at many of Moscow's restaurants and cafes following a recent decision by the State Duma to consider a bill cracking down on smoking in public places.

Russia's recent ratification -- alongside 172 other countries -- of the global convention against smoking spurred the sudden concern over secondhand smoke. The convention requires that a ban on smoking in public places be introduced gradually, along with other anti-tobacco measures.

"Our restaurants will see a considerable change after the Duma's spring session," said Nikolai Gerasimenko, the deputy head of the Duma's Public Health Committee. He said each facility would have to provide a separate hall and proper ventilation for smokers. If the area is not big enough for two halls, then the facility will have to become completely nonsmoking. Smoking areas will be limited to half the area of the establishment in restaurants, and one-quarter of the space in other places, with the explicit intent to limit exposure and harm from secondhand smoke.

Gerasimenko said the fine for violating the new rules is still under consideration, but that a bill on the subject brought before the Duma in 2007 mentioned the figure of 10,000 rubles.

"We should care for people's health more than for the expenses of renovation," said Gerasimenko, who has a degree in medicine. "They have a good income. Let them re-equip their facilities."

About 50 percent of Russians smoke, according to data from the Health and Social Development Ministry. There are no figures on how many people suffer from the effects of secondhand smoke, but research has shown that between 50 and 70 percent of nonsmokers who acquire diseases generally attributed to smoking, such as lung cancer, do so as a result of exposure to secondhand smoke.

Today, some restaurants in Moscow offer areas for smokers and nonsmokers, but these policies are only implemented on the initiative of the establishments' owners or managers.

Additionally, doctors are skeptical that sitting in a nonsmoking area of a restaurant that allows smoking provides any protection for nonsmokers, since smoke dissipates through the room. Not every facility is able to separate its space into several isolated rooms.

Vladimir Filonov / MT
If some deputies in the Duma have their way, smokers may have to take their cigarettes outside most public places.

There are a few places in the capital where smoking is already banned, such as the popular Coffee Bean chain of coffeehouses, but Coffee Bean's administration has said the ban was put in place mainly to keep the restaurant smelling like coffee rather than for health concerns.

Many countries have already gone through the difficult process of enacting bans on smoking in public, and some have gone further than the State Duma, banning smoking in public spaces completely.

Russians visiting Paris this year complained that they could not enjoy a cigarette while sitting in the city's restaurants and bars after France introduced a ban on smoking in January. Travelers to London were also surprised to see more people smoking outside pubs -- the result of an increase in fines for smoking to ?50 for the violator and up to ?2,500 for the owner.

Italians have already lived with smoking restrictions for several years, although they seem to be coping quite well since the climate allows for open-air cafes most of the year. The same may be true for the citizens of Spain and Malta.

Many European nations, however, have also banned smoking from their restaurants and bars. You can't light up in restaurants in the Czech Republic, Ireland, Latvia, Norway, Scotland or Sweden.

Each country decides for itself to what extent smoking in public must be limited, said Gerasimenko, noting that in Germany and France, it is forbidden to smoke at a bus stop.

"In Russia, we have struggled to provide at least proper separation in restaurants, and it will finally be done," he said.

Russia's efforts to regulate smoking in public spaces date back to 2002, when smoking in offices was prohibited. Violators can be fined, but no one -- including Gerasimenko, who co-authored the law -- is aware of anyone being fined.

In 2004, a federal law came into effect banning smoking on trains and ships and in railway stations outside of designated smoking areas. Under this law, smoking on aircraft was banned on flights under three hours.

In 2007, a draft bill was approved that banned smoking on flights altogether, and the same year a smoking ban was introduced for public transportation, although traditionally people have not smoked on buses or in the metro.

A ROMIR study from early 2007 indicated that half of Russians support a ban on smoking in public places -- most likely the 50 percent of Russians who do not smoke. But the other half have a strong lobby supporting their interests, Gerasimenko said.

Over the last few years, international tobacco companies have invested around $2 billion in Russia, and they are unlikely to sacrifice this pro-smoking legislative, industrial and marketing environment without a fight.

So, it may be a while before having a cigarette with your coffee will be a thing of the past.