“The law is very simple and unambiguous, and there are no legal loopholes,” says Hanna Hopko, coordinator for the Coalition of Civil Organizations “For Smoking-Free Ukraine.” According to the activist, this law is in fact a joint victory of the public, government, and journalists, who were able to join forces for the sake of people’s health. In particular, Hopko thanked The Day, on whose pages she had often published her own materials, related to the subject: “I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to The Day from our Coalition for the paper’s principled stand, and especially for that of the editor-in-chief Larysa Ivshyna, in the matters concerning public health. Indeed, in these issues journalists are vested with immense responsibility. Your newspaper has always been aware of its mission to convey truth to people. It attaches the most priority to the theme of the nation’s health as its powerful asset. Only a nation of healthy people can be successful.”
The law took effect some days ago. What are its first results?
“A group of Smoking-Free Ukraine’s activists and journalists visited a number of bars and pubs which would usually be thick with smoke and attract crowds of smokers. Surprisingly, we saw neither ash-trays (which would be a direct violation of the law) nor smokers. There was no smell of tobacco in the air either. Virtually at every venue the waitresses (mostly young women) told us that now they found the working conditions much better. Of course, some visitors resented such outcome, but when it became clear that it was no matter of preference, they had to accept the new rules.”
How long did the struggle for smoke-free Ukraine take? What were the main milestones?
“The Law of Ukraine No. 2899 ‘On Measures to Prevent and Reduce the Consumption of Tobacco Products and Their Harmful Influence on the Population’s Health’ has been in effect since 2005. This law obliged the owners of cafeterias, restaurants and suchlike to designate minimum 50 percent of their area for non-smoking customers. However, in practice this law did not protect the rights of the personnel or those of many visitors. The law was not really efficient, but it was the first step in the struggle against tobacco smoke. On November 11, 2011 (the global Smokeout Day) MPs of all factions backed the initiative of Tetiana Bakhteieva, chairperson of the parliamentary health service committee, and introduced this draft, which became law last June. The president signed it despite the pressure from the strong tobacco lobby.”
Which results do you expect this law to bring in short-term perspective, and which in long-term?
“Given that Ukraine has recently passed several important anti-tobacco laws, despite the powerful tobacco lobby and its attempts to veto legislation, since September 16 we have had a complete ban on advertising, sponsorship, and promoting sales of cigarettes and other tobacco products. Starting October 4, all tobacco manufacturers are obliged to place photo illustrations on cigarette packs, which warn about the danger of smoking. According to the World Health Organization’s third report on the global tobacco epidemic, Ukraine has dropped in the rating of most smoking nations from 4 to 29. There are also statistics offered by the State Statistics Committee: in 2005, 62 percent of men and 17 percent of women smoked, while in 2010 49 and 9 percent, respectively. This legislation aims at consolidating the tendency towards curbing the spread of smoking and smoking-related diseases.”
How hard was it to overcome the tobacco lobby? Don’t you expect a new outburst of resistance?
“We were able to successfully oppose the powerful tobacco lobby thanks to the active stand of our public, journalists, and celebrities who joined the ‘Anti-Smoking Manifesto,’ such as Yana Klochkova, Denys Sylantiev, Ani Lorak, Oleh Skrypka, and others, as well as to the coalition of MPs, which we created in the Verkhovna Rada. But we do expect more resistance from the lobbyists in the future. They can try to pull through a draft and loosen the effective law now, that the new parliament has started working.
“But what matters most is that people are beginning to understand that health should be their first priority. Being healthy is in style. Successful people are healthy people. If you can air your clothes, you cannot do the same with your lungs. This law aims to protect our right to health.”