KIEV, Ukraine -- A significant number of Ukrainian men and women have stopped smoking since 2005, two-thirds of current smokers would like to quit and more than 90 percent of the population supports a total ban on smoking in the workplace, according to the largest tobacco survey ever conducted in Ukraine.
“We’re happy with the result,” said Nataliya Korol, a national survey officer from the World Health Organization’s Ukraine office. “But we can’t let up.”
Released on Sept. 27, the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS), which was conducted between 2008-2010, provides not only detailed information about the country’s smoking habits, but also shows how they have changed since Ukraine’s parliament ratified in 2006 the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
FCTC was developed by WHO as the world’s first international public health treaty in an effort to combat the global smoking epidemic.
Ukraine was one of 13 countries that undertook a GATS study. GATS is the international standard used for systematically monitoring adult tobacco use, both smoking and smokeless, and tracking key tobacco control indicators. It is a nationally representative survey that uses standard protocol across countries.
The study showed that 28.8 percent of Ukrainian adults smoke, half of whom are men. The nation's smoking prevalence had been 37 percent in 2005.
Some 67.9 percent of current smokers said they would like to quit, while 40.5 percent tried to kick the habit in the past year. A large majority of adults, 93.1 percent, said they believe smoking causes serious illness, while 86.3 percent believe second-hand smoke is extremely harmful.
Just less than 33 percent of adults inhale secondhand smoke daily or almost daily and 34 percent are exposed to secondhand smoke at work. Two-thirds of adults surveyed said they noticed any anti-cigarette smoking information, and only 45.1 percent noticed cigarette marketing.
Tobacco prematurely kills more than 100,000 people in Ukraine annually and is some 13 percent of the country’s disease burden. Around 70 percent of tobacco-related deaths occur in the 35-69 age groups, experts said.
The drop in smoking rates has come despite a strong tobacco lobby in the Ukrainian parliament, which cuts across all political groups, said officials who presented the GATS finding at a press conference in Kyiv. In fact, the lobby has kept taxes low, making Ukraine's cigarettes among the cheapest in Europe.
“This decrease was the result of introducing in Ukraine measures which showed their effectiveness in other countries,” said Mykola Polischuk, Ukraine’s former health minister who authored the country’s tobacco control law adopted in 2005.
Lawmaker Lesiya Orobets, however, said her colleagues are still dragging their feet in approving graphic warnings that are to be placed on cigarette cartons to dissuade smokers. “They say in (parliament) that these drawings are terrible,” she said sarcastically.
Officials are concerned that cigarette companies will target young people now that adults appear to be cutting back on smoking. Indirect tobacco costs to Ukraine’s economy were about $3 billion in 2007.
To ensure the young don’t light up and adults continue to quit, experts said Ukraine must raise excise taxes on cigarettes.
“When cigarettes are cheaper than chocolate and milk, priority number one is to raise taxes,” said Hanna Hapko, the advocacy coordinator in Ukraine for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a non-profit group that has worked to get anti-smoking laws passed in parliament and cooperates with other organizations on anti-tobacco educational campaigns.
Kostantin Krasovsky, who heads the tobacco control unit at the health ministry’s Ukrainian Institute of Strategic Research, told the Kyiv Post other steps that should be taken to decrease tobacco use in Ukraine include establishing a national monitoring and surveillance system to measure the effectiveness of tobacco control policies and tobacco consumption; amending national legislation and regulations to increase coverage and improve enforcement of smoke-free policies; establishing a comprehensive national system of activities to diagnose and treat tobacco dependence; create greater visibility of messages about the various dangers of tobacco use, including nargile, cigarillos and other tobacco products and developing other informational activities.
“Legislation should be amended to remove point-of-sale, Internet, and other kinds of tobacco advertising,” he said. “These policies, when fully enacted and enforced, will reduce the burden of disease and deaths in those who smoke or are exposed to the tobacco smoke of others.”
In September 2009, the Cabinet of Ministers approved a national targeted social program until 2012 that mitigates harmful effects of tobacco on human health and monitors the effectiveness of policies for the prevention and reduction of tobacco use.
The GATS survey was based on 8,173 completed interviews with individuals 15 years of age and older from randomly selected households.
It was conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) and supported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, WHO and Bloomberg Philanthropies, an umbrella organization which manages the charitable giving of billionaire Michael R. Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City.