Tobacco sponsorship ban to cripple Russian charities

Charities in Russia face losing millions of dollars a year, as the Health Ministry is drafting a law banning charity donations from tobacco companies.

The new legislation is part of Russia’s major anti-tobacco campaign, inspired by WHO, which includes a total ban on cigarette ads. Leaders of charity organizations say that such an initiative will deprive them of much-needed donations from tobacco companies.

Cigarettes and Money

Cigarettes wrapped in bank notes

“We beg officials not to block this channel of support,” Elmira Shcherbakova, the head of the Peace and Harmony charity, told Interfax. “The tobacco industry is the most generous one in terms of charity. Thanks to them, thousands of elderly Russians receive financial help and get medical treatment and free trips to health resorts.”

In 2010 alone, three of the world’s biggest tobacco companies donated over $6 million, said Tatyana Zadirako, the head of Russia’s United Way foundation.

“They are the only ones who finance unpopular charities, like those dealing with the elderly and psychiatric patients,” Zadirako added. “It is easy to collect money for an ill child, but no one is eager to help the homeless or refugees.”

Hoping to push for the draft law’s reconsideration, the charities have filed a complaint to the country’s leadership. The document is signed by 17 public organizations, uniting 30,000 veterans and pensioners.

Meanwhile, an anonymous source in the Health Ministry told RIA Novosti that the new law does not forbid tobacco companies from donating money to charity, but it bans the use of charity as a means of advertising tobacco.

There are also a number of charity organizations that support the Health Ministry’s initiative, saying that they never use money that comes from dubious sources.

“This is not money earned by some dignified project,” Svyatoslav Pisarenko, the head of the Svyatoslav Richter charity foundation, told RT. “This is money people pay for cigarettes. This is a cost of the health and lives of these people. As the head of a charity, I do not want to deal with this money. I do not want this responsibility.”

At least 400,000 people die in Russia annually from smoking-related diseases. Official statistics indicate that 45 per cent of Russian citizens have smoked, and 34 per cent of them smoke regularly. Currently, the average age when a person starts smoking in Russia is 11 years old. Despite the annual decrease in the population, cigarette consumption grows every year.

“The popularization of smoking harms Russia much more than it helps charities,” said Sergey Markov, the head of the Duma committee on public and religious organizations.

The draft anti-smoking law also includes a ban on smoking in public places after 2014. Hotels, cafes and nightclubs will be smoke-free in 2015. By 2013, cigarettes will disappear from shops and will be sold only by catalogue.

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