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Ukraine’s smoke-free law is working!

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Dec. 25, 2012, 6:07 p.m. | Op-ed — by Hanna Hopko

Ukraine's bars, restaurants and other public places went smoke-free as of Dec. 16 -- and the results are already positive, writes Hanna Hopko.
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A friend who told me that smoking bans in public places would be ineffective has changed his mind. Since Ukraine’s law prohibiting smoking in restaurants, bars and cafes took effect on Dec. 16, my friend told me: “I have to admit that the law works!” 

And then my friend told me this story: Before the law, he smoked during dinners. After the law went into effect, he became too lazy to go out and smoke. Now he smokes so much less that he is thinking about quitting smoking entirely as a New Year’s present to himself.

During the advocacy campaign for the 100 percent smoke-free law, the tobacco industry’s lobbyists argued that such measures are ineffective and will cost restaurants business.

None of this is true.

According to international experience, the only industry that loses out is the tobacco industry. Tobacco producers know it for sure. 

Philip Morris’s own research shows that prohibiting smoking in the workplaces not only reduces consumption but also leads more people to quit.

A 1992 memo summarizing these findings states: “Total prohibition of smoking in the workplace strongly affects industry volume. Smokers facing these restrictions consume 11 percent-15 percent less than average and quit at a rate that is 84 percent higher than average.” Philip Morris’ internal documents recognizes that the “financial impact of  smoking bans will be tremendous - three to five fewer cigarettes per day per smoker will reduce annual manufacturer profits $1 billion plus per year." (http://tobaccodocuments.org/pm/2025771934-1995.html)

According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey, 68 percent of smokers in Ukraine want to quit. In 2012, Ukraine gained several victories in tobacco control. Almost all types of tobacco advertising are legally banned and have disappeared. Ukraine forbids smoking in most indoor public places, including cafes, bars and restaurants. Graphic pictorial warnings take up 50 percent of the front and back side of packs. These legislative achievements will decrease smoking prevalence in the country.

Previous tobacco control policies, mainly tobacco tax increases (see http://www.kyivpost.com/opinion/op-ed/want-to-save-lives-hike-cigarette-taxes-100134.html ) already have reduced the number of smokers in Ukraine from 10.1 million in 2008 to 8.6 million in 2011. And soon, Ukraine will experience a decline in tobacco-related mortality and morbidity. For example, the number of persons who report chronic bronchitis has decreased by 18 percent in three years.

As for 2013, the key task is enforcement of the anti-tobacco laws, old and new. We also do expect to see political will to further increase tobacco taxes for the sake of helping people quit smoking and reducing tobacco-related diseases. Tobacco and alcohol control are the most difficult areas of public health, given both industries’ clout and outreach. But progress must be made if more Ukrainians are to live full and healthy lives.

 Hanna Hopko is the coordinator of the coalition of nongovernmental organizations and the initiative “For A Smoke-Free Ukraine.” The group was formed in 2000 and unites 95 organizations in Ukraine.

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