‘Do Not Surrender! Stay Free of Tobacco!’
09 February, 2012

Recently, a terrible announcement has been on air that daily 8 persons are dying due to the passive smoking. This has awakened a keen interest in us, urging  to investigate  the ‘tobacco situation’  in Georgia, which seems to be highlighted by the First Lady with her initiative “Don’t Worry, Be Healthy” and other respective organizations.  
Puppets with trustworthy looks, called Nick and Nutsa tell us about the said catastrophic number of mortality. Where does the main problem lie? Is the

situation that serious?
The project set up by the European Union is implemented by National Center for Disease Control and Public Health of Georgia and Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Implementation and Monitoring Center in Georgia. It’s been five years since the country has joined the convention. Under the current project, the latter has printed booklets and leaflets that are addressed to the parents of schoolchildren in order to inform them about the actual harm of tobacco and prevent them from starting smoking. One of the slogans is: ‘Do not surrender to tobacco, Stay Free!’
Giorgi Bakhturidze, Director of Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Implementation and Monitoring Center in Georgia, thinks that tobacco business is one of the most criminalized spheres in Georgia. “So many millions are spent on bringing tourists to Georgia. But they don’t understand that enhancing tobacco business and smoking will prevent them from coming here. Many foreigners have complaints that they have to smell the smoke of cigarettes everywhere. It  is a real discomfort for them.”


However, according to Article 10 of the law on tobacco control, smoking is prohibited at the childcare, educational and childcare-educational institutions, medical and pharmaceutical facilities, at the entire area of petrol, gas and gas-distribution stations, in public transport, indoor areas of work and mass gathering, also in trains and ships, except specially designated smoking areas. But it turns out that the only issue of the law ratified a year ago is being fulfilled and that is  point B of Article 4 about the compulsory warning inscription on the tobacco product that has drastically increased recently. Gigi Tsereteli, Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for Health protection and Social Issues admits that tobacco industry is a very complicated sphere and it is very difficult to fight against it. ‘The framework convention obliges all its member countries; however, each country adopts these obligations considering the local situation. I have recently met with the representatives of the World Health Organization and we have covered the issue of raising the excise on cigarettes in Georgia. I must tell you that people argue: only tobacco costs cheap and you prohibit us to buy it? We don’t prohibit because the law acknowledges the rights of smokers and non-smokers fifty-the fifty. But we have to tell them anyway that the cheaper the cigarettes are, the worse their quality is. I can tell you that for instance, here cigarettes are three times cheaper than in Great Britain, because there excise-duty is high. Secondly, sanctions should by all means become stricter. Here, you can buy tobacco anywhere while in most countries there are only special shops for it and therefore, controlling its sales is much easier. And of course, it will enable us to prevent school children from starting smoking,’ Gigi Tsereteli told Georgian Journal.


The recommendation of Giorgi Bakhturidze is that special educational programs for kids must be enacted to better inform them about the harm of smoking. Unfortunately, for Georgians smoking has not become a non-prestigious habit as yet. Moreover, women think smoking makes them look attractive. ‘The surveys prove that it is much easier to influence men than women, as it is a matter of showing off.” Unfortunately, the number of female smokers is increasing. However, smoking during pregnancy is particularly dangerous. It causes mortality of new-born babies, also increases the risk of abortion, increases risk of complications during birth-giving. It  also instigates bearing of premature and less than normal-sized babies. “Moreover, there is a predisposition in the body of the baby whose mother was smoking during pregnancy that he/she will become a smoker too,” Mr. Bakhturidze adds. 
According to the head of the Tobacco Control Center, smoking in Georgia is also dangerous because here prices are low and the quality of tobacco is very low too. The harm of tobacco is enhanced by the fact that there are many cases of unlicensed cigarettes, or those that were destined to be destroyed. Purportedly, there are imports from Brazil that are genetically modified, to say nothing about some chemical additives. ‘Due to this reality, if previously tobacco consuming was killing a man in 25 years, now only 15 years are enough. Moreover, the dependence on tobacco is stronger today because of its chemical composition,’ Bakhturidze said.
However, the priority for the Tobacco Control Center is to prevent kids from starting smoking. It is clearly written in the informative booklets that children’s lungs and entire bodies hindered from developing well and therefore, it is particularly dangerous for them to smell the poisoning substances. Unfortunately, not all parents realize it and they smoke in the presence of their kids. Of course, tobacco business is a business too and its bosses will do their best to sell as many cigarettes as possible. The beautiful designs are particularly attractive for women. However, the Center of tobacco control warns us that kids who are passive smokers face a higher risk of becoming sick with pneumonia, bronchitis and other lung diseases. They are also inclined to become ill with asthma, and what is of utmost importance, the likelihood of becoming ill with cancer is two times higher among the kids of smoker parents.
National Center for Disease Control and Public Health of Georgia works for enhancing the issues connected with human health and for the propaganda of healthy lifestyle. Working against smoking seems to be one of its priorities.  Lela Sturua, Head of the Division of non-communicable Disease of the Center says that the number of people dying of direct and indirect causes of tobacco is very high. “Speaking of indirect causes, I mean cardiovascular  diseases, cancer, diabetes and chronic diseases of lungs. If we manage to reduce the total consuming of tobacco within the country, this will automatically mean the reduction of these diseases and correspondingly, mortality.” 
According to the survey of 2010, conducted by STEPS, 27.7% of the total population are current everyday smokers, 30.3% are current smokers. Out of the first datum, 51.1% prove to be men and only 4% are women. However, the specialists think that there still exists stigma against the smoker women and therefore, in spite of the fact that the survey is anonymous, women don’t seem to be very sincere in some cases. The average number of fags a day is 19,5 – 14 fags per female and 20 per male smoker a day.


The mortality rate is very high and varies from 8 to 11 thousand per year. The average age of commencing smoking is 18 among men and 23 among women. “However, it does not seem real either, as there are many children smoking in the public schools,” says Ms. Sturua.  ‘If we talk about the chronic diseases that come from tobacco consuming, 91% people of the total mortality rate of Georgia comes on them.”  
It is a problem that in spite of the very nice-written legislation, rights of non-smokers are very poorly preserved in Georgia. Notably, second-hand (passive) smokers prove to have the identical organic problems as the smokers. “My recommendation is that smoking must be totally banned in hospitals and other medical organizations as well as in schools. However, surveys show that there are plenty of cases of not only the children’s smoking but also the teachers’ smoking. As for the medical sphere, it proves to be one of the strongest smoker professions in Georgia,” says Lela Sturua and adds that fortunately, the state is more active in this direction and there are preconditions that the smoking and non-smoking zones will soon be strictly defined in public places. “Ordinary people too begin to realize the real harm of tobacco. It is worth mentioning that 20-40% of abrupt mortality among children is their being passive smokers.”


Notably, as the US seems to more or less have combated smoking, there don’t practically exist organizations in which it is permitted to smoke and its employees have to walk several meters and smoke there. ‘These are the conditions that enhance less smoking, and if these are conditions with us, which are quite rare, Georgians too smoke much less than usual.” Maia Grigolia proves it. She was a current everyday smoker. For some period, she had got a job at one of the international organizations where smoking was banned. “I hardly smoked even one cigarette a day, as it was very discomforting for me to leave the comfort and go outside and freeze for the sake of smoking. Therefore, my smoking was radically reduced,” she says.     
According to another survey conducted among 16-year-old adolescents, 16% are current everyday smokers, 30% begin to smoke from 13 years of age or even earlier and out of them, and 5% are current everyday smokers. 10% have already tasted cigarettes before the age of 9.” The number of male smokers seems to be high but stable when the number of female smokers is increasing.  
Some of the main recommendations for smoker parents: to never send their children to buy tobacco, to keep away boxes of cigarettes from their reach, not to smoke in their presence and try to show them that you are going to give it up.


In conclusion, the tobacco situation in Georgia is quite worrying but comparing to the situation in the world where only 26 countries, representing 8.8% of the world- population, have comprehensive national bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; where 27% of the world’s population live in countries that do not ban free distribution of tobacco products; where only 21 countries, representing 6.2% of the world’s population, have tobacco tax rates greater than 75% of the retail price; where tobacco tax revenues are 173 times higher than spending on tobacco control; is promising as well.

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