Sunday, October 21, 2012

“Smoking had come to be an important punctuation mark... the long sentence of a day on the road.”
- F. Scott Fitzgerald

If anything were to make me smoke, it'd be either a) this cool quote or b) living in Ukraine.

But a) no and b) close, but no cigar (haha).

Smoking is so present in everyday life here that it's impossible to miss. Office workers take smoke breaks, smokers light up in the "smoking section" of coffee shops (conveniently located right next to the non-smoking area, ahem, Coffee Life!), cigarettes are sold everywhere- kiosks, grocery stores, by shady men in trench coats on the street corner. If you go shopping at the central market you'll walk by these men- "cigarettes!" they whisper to you, "from Russia! from Poland!"
Yesterday I was waiting at the crosswalk when an ambulance slowly drove past, preparing to make a turn. Inside were two medics, one at the wheel, the other smoking a cigarette with the window rolled up.

Cigarettes for women, by the way, is a glamourous business. Women buy brands with sexy names in ultra slim packs. The cigarettes themselves are long and incredibly thin, extremely feminine.

Women's cig compared to a regular cig (in ashtray)

Here's something a (female) friend showed me the other day-
Kiss superslims energy- can you see how this appeals to women?

There are restrictions against underage smoking. In Yevpatoria we were browsing in a small grocery store this spring. A young boy (about 10?) came in the store and acted extremely nervous. He was so nervous that it was cute! :p He tried to buy some cigarettes. The salesclerk firmly said no. She explained to him that it was against the law and she could get a big fine for doing it. He replied that he was trying to buy them for his father and left. Surprisingly, his father actually came in (he'd been waiting outside in the car) and bought them himself. Despite this incident, it's still common to see teens smoking in packs.

Side of a cigarette kiosk- "light up with BIC!"

Earlier this year there was a great row about Ukraine going in the smoke-free (or at least, reduced) direction. Check out this Reuters article from May- Ukraine tightens anti-smoking law before Euro 2012. What do you make of this sentence? "It significantly widened previous 2010 legislation, which prohibits smoking in lifts, hospitals, schools and street underpasses, to include restaurants and cafes." Does that mean that before 2010 you could smoke in a hospital? Anyways,  I haven't noticed any changes and What's On Kiev appears to back me up (Smoking Ban Turns to Ashes).

During our short class break, my students tend to do one of three things: talk on their cell phones, drink tea, or step out for a cigarette. The number of smokers isn't as high as I'd first assumed it was, though. Some of the students don't even smoke- they just go outside to hang around the American teachers who smoke. There's just a couple who can be counted on to come back smelling like nicotine. When I first moved to Ukraine I polled my classes on this topic, asking what they thought about cigarettes. They claimed that it wasn't their generation (early 20s) who smoked, that it was a holdover from the old days and the newer generations don't see it as cool. I don't know about that... there are still an awful lot of young smokers. Even in the park it's not rare to see a smoking parent pushing a baby stroller or sometimes even holding a baby in one hand, cigarette in the other.

What do you think? Is smoking prevalent in Ukraine? Does the current anti-smoking legislation actually have any affect on reality? What will happen in the future?

UPDATE: Now that I've started thinking about smoking, it seems like it's everywhere. On the way to Spanish class today I noticed an empty pack of cigarettes tossed on the sidewalk. It caught my eye because the warning label was in English! It said smokers die younger. Cigarettes always have a warning label but it's usually in Ukrainian, I've never seen an English label before (the rest of box appeared to be in Ukrainian or Russian).

Also, in class we ended up getting into a debate over whether people smoke in the elevators in their apartment buildings. The teacher was sure that no one would do such a thing, but three women had either seen it happen or were convinced of it. One woman told a story about getting into an elevator in her building with her 8 year old daughter. A man was already in there, smoking. Her daughter was struggling to breathe so she asked him to stop smoking and he was all "Let her get used to it" and continued puffing away. The other students in class were shocked, so I'm guessing such drastic confrontations are a rarity. However, in our old apartment we would frequently see cigarette butts on the elevator floor...

UPDATE 2: Wow! A couple days after I wrote this post, what should turn up in the Kyiv Post but More People Quit Smoking as Tougher Measures Adopted! Take that, Coffee Life smokers :p As of Dec 16th, game over.

UPDATE 3: Kyiv hotel room, July 2014.


  1. Katya,
    This is how it was for me growning in Macedonia. It's a huge surprise to me that I never smoked, never even tried. As far as smoking in hospitals....I remember as a kid I'd see signs on hospital walls: 'thank you for not smoking'. I think that meant that you could, but 'thank you' for not doing so. My parents and all of their friends smoked. My mom would call my name over the window (we lived on the 4th floor) and clip on some money on a clothes pin, launch it down for me to catch it and go buy her a pack. It never was an issue (this was off course 20 years ago). Cigarettes, beer, alcohol, as long as you can reach the counter, hand over the money you could buy anything you want.

    1. Wow, Vesna, thank you for sharing! :) I'd like to keep learning more about Macedonia.

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  3. ew years ago I would not believe that smoking in Ukraine couldn't be trendy among young people but now it seems to come true. Rising cigarette prices and advertising restrictions fortunately has its positive effect. I heared from some people that they stopped smoking (or going to do it) because it's expensive.
    According to researches "Daily smoking prevalence among adults in 2000-2006 ranged from about 30% to 37%, but from 2007 to 2009 it decreased to 25-27%."
    "The general change in smoking prevalence among youth was similar to the adult change: high rates in early 2000s and a decline in the second half of the 2000s"
    Full report:

    1. That's interesting because that's pretty much how America got rid of smoking- by raising the prices. It proved very effective there.

      What kind of advertising restrictions are there in Ukraine right now, do you know?

    2. I know that advertising of cigarettes was totally banned on Ukrainian TV for some time.

      "Since September 16, 2012 in Ukraine it has been banned not only advertising on radio, television, print media and outdoor advertising media, but also on the Internet, in stores and kiosks, as well as sponsorship and promotion of tobacco products." -

      "From October 4 cigarette packs in Ukraine will be produced with warning pictures about diseases caused by smoking, Health Ministry of Ukraine has reported on Thursday" -

      Here are some examples of (imho not very) scary pictures on cigarette packs that will appear on sale in Ucraine very soon:

    3. So much great information, Andrew!!! Thank you! If I recall correctly Canada has the same kind of pictures on their cigarette packs.

      So that new law passed just a month ago. The article also says- "...the holders of all retail establishments should remove all the stickers or decorations that contain tobacco advertising from the shelves and showcases. Also from Internet network it should be gone banners and commercials that advertise tobacco." I'll be curious to see if this actually happens!

    4. On the one hand the government unable to control the internet, they unable to control content on foreign websites, on the other hand they could impose sanctions on tobacco companies, which advertising was detected on Ukrainian websites. Also they could impose a penalty on owners of the Ukrainian websites-violators. I'm not sure if it happens. Ukraine is not a country where laws are always complied.