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Regulations that will Bring No Benefits

A new bill of amendments to the tobacco control law has been submitted to the Parliament. MP Guguli Maghradze proposed the initiative at the supreme legislative body in spring.

The bill calls for introducing radical changes, including prohibition of smoking at public places and full restriction of many products related to tobacco. The legislative initiative will be discussed in autumn session to decide whether to adopt new regulations or not.

According to the new amendments to the tobacco control law, a number of new regulations will be introduced, including full prohibition of smoking at public places, full restriction of outdoor advertising of tobacco, forbidding of sales of tobacco and tobacco products and its accessories to passengers in vehicles.

Moreover, tobacco sales should not be visible and closed boxes should be used at commerce facilities, including at booths, stores and supermarkets.

The bill also bans advertising tobacco products, their accessories and smoking devices and grows the space of health warning indications on cigarette packs to 65% from 30%. Moreover, smoking will be banned at minibus taxis, buses and private taxis. These regulations refer to drivers of these vehicles, first of all. The bill calls for removing tobacco trade along highways, where drivers can directly buy cigarettes. Moreover, obligatory licenses will be introduced for tobacco sellers. The bill envisions introduction of many other regulations.

Opponents have already staged criticism over the bill, including state officials and state structures, businessmen and economic experts. Everybody agrees that the Authorities should take efficient steps to reduce the smoking level in the country, but adoption of this edition of the bill will not tackle the problem, but generate other ones. The fact all sellers will be obliged to take special licenses creates corruption preconditions. Moreover, many street sellers or small enterprises will just go bankrupt, because they will not be able to satisfy new regulations. At the same time, cafes and restaurants will have to arrange special zones for smoking, which must be less than 20% of total space and isolated from the remaining space. Naturally, arranging similar infrastructure requires additional expenditures and enterprisers will have to increase prices of products and services. As a result, ordinary consumers will bear losses.

It should be noted that even the bill author does not expect fundamental positive results  in terms of reduction of smoking level in the country. The international experience suggests that similar laws bring unimportant effects, MP Guguli Maghradze told the Resonance newspaper.

“Similar restrictions are expected to reduce the smoking level by 1% on average, but similar bills  protect rather the rights of potential smokers and nonsmokers”, the bill author explained.

Actually, the international experience proves that only regulations cannot bring efficient results. The most efficient mechanism consists in social campaigns carried out by the Government for the smoking level reduction, when the Authorities carry out various education activities to persuade citizens in harm effects of smoking. Anyway, similar campaigns require considerable expenditures too. Introduction of regulations reduces the smoking level by 0.5-1% and these restrictions should be implemented stage by stage in the course of time by maximally adapting them to public interests. The new bill lacks for these characteristics.

“Tobacco industry does not object to new regulations, but these regulations should be foreseeable for the business and should be oriented on results. I cannot understand what is the benefit of regulations that will worsen the situation, will not reduce the smoking level  and increase corruption risks? It is important to take into account both pros and cons», Nikoloz Mchedlishvili, vice president of the international chamber of commerce noted.

A number of parliament members and government officials have also showed negative attitude towards the new bill. According to the previous week’s information, several ministries and government structures submitted negative conclusions concerning the bill.

«The bill comprises issues that, to my thought, may be fulfilled actually, but I believe changes are of radical character and radical changes are always difficult to execute, because sudden change of habits in people causes internal protests and therefore people easily violate the restrictions.

I would rather back the bill for introducing restrictions stage by stage. I  repeat we should do our best to reduce the smoking level in the country and protect nonsmokers, but this process should be carried out reasonably and we should avoid decisions that will remain on paper and will not be fulfilled in reality», Vakhtang Khmaladze, head of the parliament’s committee for legal issues, said.

It should be noted, besides radical regulations determined by the bill, the monitoring system for fulfillment of new requirements remains also unclear. Who will control whether a taxi driver smokes or not in vehicle?! Who will measure the space of smoking zones at all cafes and bars, whether the smoking zone’s total space is less than 20% or not?! It is necessary that the Authorities valuably appraise expected results of this or that steps and take decisions only after that.

By Merab Janiashvili
Economic Analyst
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