No butts about it: MPs scrap with chief medical officer over anti-smoking bill

 AFP Photo / Eric Feferberg
Outraged Russian MPs fired back at the country’s chief health inspector and demanded his resignation after Gennady Onishchenko threatened to seek the dissolution of the State Duma if it does not pass an anti-smoking bill.

Onishchenko insists the bill should be adopted as drafted by the Health Ministry. Otherwise, he would raise the issue of the lower house’s dissolution, he said.

“As a voter, I have the right to say so,” Onishchenko said in an interview with Echo Moskvy radio station.

In response, a senior member of ruling party United Russia, Andrey Makarov, pointed out that the statement was grounds for Onishchenko to be dismissed “immediately,” and he should undergo “psychiatric examination.” Makarov claimed, however, that he fully supported the bill that would ban smoking in public and tobacco ads.

A similar stance was voiced by Communist MP Nikolay Kolomeitsev, who described Onishchenko’s comments as inappropriate. “If the head of a federal agency wants to go into politics, he should leave government,” RIA Novosti quoted him as saying on Tuesday. Under the Russian constitution, only the president is entitled to dissolve the lower house, Kolomeitsev added.

Duma Speaker Sergey Naryshkin said he was going to meet with Onishchenko to discuss the issue. “Evidently [Onishchenko] has some gaps in his understanding of the fundamentals of the rule-of-law based state, of how its institutions are formed and function,” he said.

Earlier last week, the anti-smoking draft law was approved by the Russian government.

“This is a big problem and we are too careless about it,” Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said after the draft was approved. “We have to move towards civilization, like the rest of the world. And this will bring in an effect that will be measured in human lives.”

Some 44 million Russians are regular smokers, and almost 400,000 people die annually of smoking-related illnesses, Medvedev said.

Under the Health Ministry’s proposals, smoking in public spaces, including bars, cafes, state buildings and train stations would be outlawed. The bill also suggests raising tobacco taxes and prohibiting any form of tobacco advertising. The measures would be introduced gradually, with some coming into force immediately, and others by January 1, 2015.