Smoke gets in your eyes

I hate cigarette smoke and the smell it leaves in clothes and hair. Whenever possible I try to avoid smoking areas or smoky places. In my home country and many other Western countries, it's easy to get around the smoke. Restaurants have to have a separate non-smoking area, smoking is banned from many public places and advertising for cigarettes is restricted. Non-smoking areas in many places here in Moscow are simply a joke. The smoking and non-smoking area is often only divided by a low glass barrier, allowing the smoke to spread above and under or by an invisible line in one big room. In the EU, tobacco advertisements have been banned from television since 1991. Smoking is not in vogue any more, there are many campaigns against smoking, and in any drug stores you can buy any conceivable kind of patch or pill that promises to help people to stop.

Moscow seems to be an eldorado for smokers. Desperate Western smokers, disappointed by the restrictions in their own countries, finally feel at home here. On the street, in restaurants and pubs, offices, parks and wherever – nobody gives you dirty looks when you light a cigarette with full pleasure. In apartment buildings there are improvised ash trays on nearly every floor, made from old cans or bottles. While many Western societies regard smokers as antisocial and a disturbance to non-smokers, smoking is deeply anchored in the Russian lifestyle. What would be good Russian men-talk without a cigarette and a bottle of vodka? How would you get the specific rough Russian voice that we love from many Russian movies giving certain scenes its slighly melancholic touch and underlining the roughness of Russian life.

But what about young women? About a year ago, I was looking through a women's fashion magazine and spotted a double page spread with four beautiful girls, dressed in different colors in the style of Sex and the City. Flipping the page, the second part of the advertisement appears. Where the girls were placed, there were four boxes of light cigarettes in the same color as the girls’ dresses. Extra slim and light cigarettes, scented to avoid the typical smoke smell for the fashionista today. In my country, authorities would go crazy over such an advertisement. Cigarettes as a precious fashion accessory for young girls? Hard to belive that the target group falls for that, but its seems like they do. Recently the advertisments in newspapers became more subtle, but they still manage to link beauty and a fashionable lifestyle with tobacco. Nowhere else have I seen more young girls smoking. When I meet smokers in the West, they find nothing really that cool about it. Sure they enjoy a cigarette or two, but the way some girls smoke here, puts pleasure from tobacco in second place. The movement, the hand posture and the way they exhale the smoke is obviously supposed to look sexy. My friend here in Moscow, a fashionable non-smoking girl shares my observation on this. Smoking to be sexy, smoking to be fashionable, smoking because its simply cool. However not all of them are fashion-smokers, many some of them seem to generally enjoy their cigarettes. The way they smoke shows that at least they are not convinced of the cigarette as the ultimate fashion accessory.

Russia seems to be aware of that problem and they actually have anti-smoking advertisements in the metro escalators. I spotted three types of them. In one, a girl wears a dress made of cigarettes with a caption saying: “Smoking – not in fashion any more.” The second is rather simple with the Russian word “NO” spelled with cigarettes. When you look closer it says: “Say NO to smoking”. The third one is a black lung being squeezed by a hand and dark liquid is running into a glass, saying: “Stop smoking today!” If anyone has seen any other ones of this kind I would be interested to know. I haven’t. Also they look rather simple - the budget for anti-smoking ads surely can't compete with those of tobacco companies. A little further down the escalator is a violet shiny, lit billboard advertising tobacco. Another one shows happy and attractive people next to a pack of cigarettes. If you ask me, the message in these advertisments is clear: non-smoking is grey, dull and cheap, tobacco consumption is shiny, bright and colourful. So how would you want your life to be?

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