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Tobacco, Alcohol Advertisers Flaunt Russian, Moscow Bans : Law: Without enforcement, businesses ignore the legislation, which primarily affects Western companies.

September 13, 1993|J. ANDREW STANFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

MOSCOW — Nearly a month after a nationwide ban on alcohol and tobacco advertising took effect here, this city still looks like Marlboro Country--at least on billboards.

Moscow's business community, already immunized to a series of toothless regulations, is ignoring the alcohol and tobacco ad ban.

The measure bars tobacco and booze ads on everything from radio airwaves to rotating clocks and is the strictest in the world after Iceland's, the business newspaper Kommersant Daily reports. But the law carries no penalties or deadlines for removing existing advertisements.

Moscow's City Council passed a similar ban in July, setting an Aug. 1 deadline for removal of existing ads. But city officials failed to follow through and the colorful ads for Western drink and cigarettes still dot Moscow's gray cityscape.

Some officials say the laws will eventually be enforced in a less stringent form, but Western advertisers don't sound worried. "It really hasn't affected us," said Kellie Carney, ad manager for the Budweiser distributor here. "There's no enforcement whatsoever. There are so many laws that come and go."

The laws would primarily affect Western companies that have radically changed the advertising scene here with their relatively large budgets.

Business people aren't the only ones opposing the new bans. The Russian Press and Information Ministry is already punching holes in the city regulation and awaiting its review of the nationwide law.

"We will not take any Draconian measures, because alcohol and cigarette advertising is a major source of revenue for many newspapers," said Sergei Lutnitsky, head of the ministry's Department for Defense of the Freedom of the Press.

Tobacco and alcohol advertising generates more money for Russian mass media than any other consumer good, said Bruce Macdonald, general director of BBDO Marketing, which represents the British American Tobacco Group. He expects the Press and Information Ministry to soften the city and federal laws before trying to enforce them.

Deciding how to enforce the law apparently falls under the ministry's jurisdiction because the Russian and Moscow legislatures failed to specify how it was to be done--an omission that is common in Russia's confusing politics.

Russia's government exercises no real control over advertisers. Russian television broadcasts spots for topless cabarets and Mace-like gas pistols, as well as cigarettes and liquor, but only after 10 p.m.--a self-imposed restriction.

Yuri Saveliev, Lutnitsky's deputy, said last week that the Press and Information Ministry's suggested revisions should resemble the International Advertising Code used in Europe, where advertisers face more moderate restrictions than in America. Cigarette ads, for example, are not banned on European television, as they are in the United States.

The cigarette and tobacco ad ban, part of a law on health care, was intended to combat Russia's sky-high rates of cigarette and alcohol use. But it also showed the resentment by Russians against Western merchants using tried-and-true manipulative techniques to boost products that are under fire in the West.

Western cigarette makers hold controlling interests in Russia's largest cigarette plants, representing an investment exceeding $25 million. Manufacturers here include Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco International, and Brooke Group Ltd. Western alcohol producers, led by the Pierre Smirnoff Co., have also staked claims in the Moscow market.

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