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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Duma Takes Step to Restrict Smoking

The State Duma gave tentative approval Friday to legislation aimed at restricting smoking in public places such as restaurants and waiting lounges in train stations and airports.

Restaurant owners, who would face fines of up to $3,900 for noncompliance, expressed some unease about the bill. But if the lax enforcement of a previous attempt to crack down on second-hand smoke is any indication, they and smokers themselves have little to worry about.

The new rules would prohibit smokers from lighting up anywhere except specially designated areas in restaurants, trains, ships, municipal government offices and the waiting lounges. Smoking on airplanes would be banned altogether.

In a restaurant, the designated area would be limited to half the space of the establishment, while in other places the area would be limited to one-quarter of the space.

The bill proposes fines of up to $190 for individuals and $3,900 for companies that fail to enforce smoking rules. No fines are proposed for smokers.

Under a 2002 law, smoking is currently restricted to designated areas in federal government buildings, workplaces, universities, hospitals and theaters. There are no penalties, however, for violations. The only fine in place right now -- of 100 rubles ($4) -- is for people who smoke on wooden bridges and public transportation.

In an explanatory note to Friday's bill, its authors argued that the measure would protect passive smokers, particularly children and women, from the "harmful effects of tobacco smoke."

However, even within the walls of the Duma -- where smoking is theoretically forbidden because the building lacks a formally designated smoking area -- skepticism about the new bill permeated the air together with the stale scent of tobacco on Friday. Most Duma deputies smoke right in their offices, several deputies' aides acknowledged during smoking breaks in the building's stairwells.

"The worst is [Deputy Duma Speaker] Artur Chilingarov. He smokes like a chimney," said an official who works in the United Russia faction. He declined to give his name and said he preferred to smoke in the stairwell because he respected visitors who might not like the smell of tobacco.

Chilingarov was not available for comment.

A middle-aged aide to another Duma deputy called the bill "idiotic." "People will not smoke less but will hide with a cigarette like cockroaches in dark corners because no one will set up proper smoking areas," he said, puffing on a cigarette.

Another aide complained that the bill, like a previous ban on beer, could not be enforced. "We have already been through it all. Remember the ban on selling beer near schools and drinking them in the metro? Nothing has changed," he said.

The bill, approved in a first reading by a vote of 406-0, was authored by nine United Russia lawmakers, including Duma Deputy Speaker Lyubov Sliska, as well as Federation Council Senator Lyudmila Narusova.

Representatives of the tobacco industry were decidedly soft-spoken about the plan. "We will accept any reasonable regulations," said Anatoly Vereshchagin of Japan Tobacco, which sells Camel, Salem and Winston in Russia.

He stressed that the law should be "balanced and not extremist," citing the partial ban on restaurants as a step in the right direction.

Some restaurants might face difficulties, however. "We could only ban smoking completely," said Anatoly Sokolov, director of Vinosyr, a wine bar located in a cellar behind Tverskaya Ulitsa.

Sokolov said he opposed the bill but did not see a way to avoid it. On the other hand, he added, a smoke-free environment might actually do some good: "Wine tastes better without cigarettes."

Frank Caruana, manager of Sportland, a bar on the Arbat popular with expatriates, acknowledged that he had not heard of the bill at all. He said he did not think that smoking was a great concern to his guests. "I never had any complaints," he said, adding that he had an elaborate ventilation system.

While he said designating a smokers' area would be no problem, he expressed surprise that the legislation was being considered in the first place. "This is probably the only place in the world, where smoking is no issue at all," he said.

Health experts criticized the restaurant restrictions as insufficient. "It will not work at all," said Kirill Danishevsky of the Moscow-based Open Health Institute. Ventilation would only spread the smoke evenly, he explained.

But he praised deputies for trying to do something about second-hand smoke and cautioned them not to move too quickly. "You must make the laws stricter step by step not to risk riots," he said, adding that in regions such as Chelyabinsk, 82 percent of men are smokers.

Russia's tobacco market is considered to be Europe's biggest. The World Health Organization estimates that 64 percent of men and 21 percent of women smoke, said Haik Nikogosian of the WHO Regional Office for Europe.

Russia is lagging behind Europe in its anti-smoking policies, but "it is a good sign and very much in line with the European trend that Russia is now making public places smoke free," Nikogosian said by telephone from Copenhagen.

Some 375,000 Russians die every year from smoking-related diseases, the country's chief epidemiologist, Gennady Onishchenko, said last year.

Russians' love for cigarettes once even became a matter of world diplomacy. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, a chain smoker, led a bitter fight against a smoking ban in the United Nations building when he was Russia's ambassador to the UN. The ban went into effect anyway in 2003.