Harking back, in a sense, to Mikhail Gorbachev and his campaign against drunkenness in the final decade of the Soviet Union, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has launched a twin campaign against smoking and drunken driving.
The reason is that both vices negatively impact Russia's life expectancy, one of the lowest in the developed world, which plays into the country's demographic problem. Smoking boosts health costs and hurts industrial productivity. According to the Health Ministry, the economic damage of smoking cuts 6.3% from the Russian gross domestic product.
Russia is the world's second-largest market for cigarette makers after China. Characteristically, the Russian Prime Minister assailed the Russian governments that preceded the Putin era for failing to understand the implications of allowing foreign cigarette companies to invest in Russia, in both advertising and providing lighter cigarettes.
Russia will try to fight the smoking habit by prohibition of smoking in playgrounds, schools, universities outpatient hospitals, cafes and other public areas - and via taxation.. There will be a lead-in time, but the laws will be fully in effect by January 2015.
In addition, smoking will become more expensive as the tax on cigarettes will be increased eightfold. This is also expected to help the government budget. The bill, explained Dmitry Medvedev, was not discriminatory against smokers. The real victims of discrimination were the 60% of non-smokers including newborn infants. Particularly at risk were waitresses in cafes for whom exposure to tobacco smoke could be described as an occupational hazard.
Crusading against drunk driving, the Prime Minister wants a zero tolerance policy against anyone with a blood alcohol content (BAC) above 0% per milliliter. His thinking is that somebody drinking will always delude himself that he is still within the limits or can beat the rap.
Here he is meeting opposition from the Russian legislature, the Duma. Some legislators claim that the zero alcohol content is too severe and can even convict people who have not imbibed alcohol, but still show up over zero. Therefore, they recommend emulating the Swedish standard of 0.20 BAC.
They also recommend graduated penalties depending on the level of intoxication. Light offenders would get community service and serious offenders would get 3 year prison sentences.