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Two-thirds of Belarusians believe smoking should be completely prohibited in public places

Most people support drastic measures

Two-thirds of Belarusians believe smoking should be completely prohibited in public places

It’s a luxury

There has long been a movement to end smoking in public places, with Presidential Decree #28, signed in 2002, as an important step. It banned the sale of cigarettes to those aged under 18 years, as well as smoking in education and healthcare institutions, offices, apartment buildings’ staircases, trains, stations, airports, and other such public places. At that time, bars and restaurants weren’t tackled.

Penalties for violation of smoking rules are strict, with fines ranging from 84 to 630 denominated Roubles (4 to 30 base units).

After Belarus’ joining of the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) in 2005, advertising of tobacco products came under scrutiny. It’s now forbidden to display cigarettes in shop windows; a list of titles and their prices is all that’s allowed.

Not simply a bad habit

There have been tangible results, with sales of cigarettes in the Vitebsk Region almost halving per capita between 2013 and 2015, from 11.6 packets of cigarettes per capita to 6.8.

“According to statistical data, sales began to fall in 2014. Last year, this continued,” explains Zhanna Listopadova, who heads the Directorate for Organisation of Trade, Public Catering and Public Services, at the Vitebsk Regional Executive Committee’s Trade and Services Department. Similar trends were seen in other regions, and the share of smokers in the Brest Region reduced over fifteen years, from 40 percent in 2001 to 25.5 percent in early 2016.

However, sociological polls show that around a third of the adult population still smokes, and the number of new smokers is increasing among the most able-bodied: those aged between 18 and 24 (up 42 percent) and those aged between 25 and 39 (up 38 percent).

Doctors note that cigarettes are viewed as the cause of twenty percent of deaths in people aged over 35. According to the World Health Organisation, around 23 percent of deaths from ischemic heart disease are directly linked to this bad habit. Belarus’ Health Minister, Vasily Zharko, tells us, “The main reason for high mortality among able-bodied men is an unhealthy lifestyle: an irresponsible attitude towards health costs the state many billions in treating the results of this bad habit.”

Special zones for smoking

Most efficient measure

Belarusian authorities still have much to accomplish, with the Health Ministry keen to see a complete ban on smoking in public places. “A Presidential decree has been elaborated to toughen measures against smoking, and will be adopted very soon,” adds Mr. Zharko.

The efficiency of such measures is confirmed by Lars Møller, the representative of the WHO Regional Office for Europe and a specialist at the Division of Non-communicable Diseases and Life-Course. He tells us, “It’s necessary to ban smoking, including in bars and restaurants. This will protect non-smoking customers and staff from tobacco smoke.”

The experience of other counties shows that this is an efficient measure, while research conducted upon the order of the Belarusian Consumer Protection Society shows that such measures are supported by 75 percent of the population.

“These are the results of a sociological poll of a thousand people aged over 18,” asserts Anna Susha, the Chair of the Belarusian Consumer Protection Society. “90 percent of residents are in favour of a smoking ban in children’s playgrounds and on urban public transport, while more than 80 percent support a smoking ban on the premises of healthcare institutions, sports centres and stadiums, and at education and cultural institutions.”

Only facts

The share of male smokers in Belarus is falling, while that of women remains stable. More than half of those smoking (53.6 percent) would like to kick the habit, understanding that it harms their health. Even if you don’t smoke, being in close proximity to a smoking person obliges you to inhale more than 4,000 chemicals, including 69 cancerogenes. Women and children are especially prone to the dangers of passive smoking. Children may come to suffer from lung diseases, and smoking increases the risk of breast cancer among women by 70 percent.

‘Start with yourself’

Polotsk doctors have decided to take their own ‘medicine’ in their struggle against bad habits. The administration and the council of medical sisters of Polotsk’s central city polyclinic have suggested that employees take part in the Health at the Workplace ‘Start with Yourself! project. Most of the staff (over 450 people) are supporting the initiative.

The project is being implemented in several stages, with titles that speak for themselves: ‘Movement is Joyous’, ‘Healthy Nutrition Suits Everyone’ and ‘Territory without Tobacco Smoking’.

“We began by asking employees questions, so that we could assess risk factors for them, and compile health ratings,” explains the head of the polyclinic, Svetlana Odintsova. “We’ve chosen reliable, well-tested methods, such as physical exercise and sports competitions. We’re moving more, aiming to shed excess weight. We’re also helping people quit smoking by encouraging good habits, in addition to organising various training sessions, seminars and lessons in stress management.”

Polotsk doctors will sum up the results in December, after which experience will be spread across all departments of the hospital.

By Vladimir Velikhov
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