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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Duma Moves Against Tobacco and Alcohol Ads

The State Duma on Wednesday passed the first reading of a bill completely banning tobacco and alcohol advertising as well as commercial breaks in most television programs.

The Duma endorsed the bill, drafted by the State Anti-Trust Committee and approved by the government, by a vote of 233-37, just eight votes over the required minimum of 226. It still must go through several stages to become law.

The tough bill has been roundly condemned by advertising agencies, which argue that if a product is legal to manufacture, it should be legal to advertise. Some liberal deputies argued Wednesday that the bans would hurt the media and allow the government to manipulate them through enforcement of the advertising rules.

"If you want to, we might go back to the experience of 70 years of Communism," deputy Artyom Tarasov told the legislature sarcastically. "We lived without any advertising then, so why can't we ban it all again? Just pass a one-line law that says, 'Ban all ads.'"

Alexander Pochinok of the reformist Russia's Choice faction argued that the bill would be too costly to implement because Russia's two state television channels, faced with drastic cuts in advertising revenues, would have to rely heavily on government funds.

"The TV people will come running to us and say they can't survive," Pochinok said. "What are we going to tell them? That we have no money?"

But all these considerations were outweighed by the legislators' desire to stop the flood of advertising that has descended on the Russian public in the past few years after decades of drought. Aside from banning tobacco and alcohol advertising in the media and on the streets, the bill outlaws all commercial breaks in movies, educational and religious programs, children's shows and live broadcasts.

"There is probably no one in this hall who has not been asked by their voters and their families to rein in advertising," said Igor Yakovenko of the Information Policy Committee, who presented a softer alternative version of the bill.

Anti-Trust Committee chairman Leonid Bochin, who presented the government's draft, sharply criticized the softer version, which would allow some tobacco and alcohol advertising on television in the late evening and create a representative non-governmental committee to implement the advertising rules.

Bochin said the version was being pushed by advertisers who wanted to soften the rules and then hinder their implementation through representatives on the committee.

"There is a lot of money behind this bill," said nationalist deputy Sergei Kalashnikov, speaking in Bochin's support

"The moneybags would like to be given a chance to, so to say, control themselves," he said.

Bochin's opponents, including Information Policy Committee chief Mikhail Poltoranin, argued that the government draft gave the Anti-Trust Committee monopoly control over the implementation of the advertising rules.

"If this law, which is all bans, comes into effect," Poltoranin said, "the anti-trust bureaucrats will be able to strangle any newspaper they choose, and I can assure you that they will try to weed out selected media."

But even Poltoranin's heart was not in defending a softer bill.

"Like many of you, I don't really like commercials," he admitted. "They irritate me."