Despite resistance from affected businesses, Kyiv on April 1 is banning alcohol and tobacco sales from small street kiosks. While many praise the initiative as helpful in improving public health, businesses appear set to challenge the legality of the move.

The decision, adopted by the Kyiv city council on Dec. 23, specifically bans alcohol and tobacco sales in street kiosks less than 40 square meters – covering most of more than 10,000 such small business establishments operating in the city. The measure also forbids the sale of alcohol (except beer in plastic bottles) and tobacco during mass gatherings.

However, entrepreneurs who run kiosks call the decision unlawful and protested outside the Presidential Administration on March 11, demanding that Viktor Yanukovych ask the prosecutor to review the legality of the decision.

“Owners of big supermarkets obviously want to have a monopoly for alcohol and tobacco sales. Meanwhile these products account for most of the kiosks’ profit,” said Vadym Hladchuk, from the civil organization Molod – Nadiya Ukrajiny (Youth – Hope of Ukraine), who was among organizers of protest.

Entrepreneurs say no public hearings were held on the matter and the decision contradicts 1996 rules for alcohol retail still in force today. According to those rules, alcohol sale is allowed in shops bigger than 20 square meters, not 40, as in the council’s action.

Businessman Mykola Omelchuk says his small beer shop is under threat. “We have enough space, more than 20 square meters, so customers can come in and even take a seat. We sell quality beer and many customers appreciate the product,” Omelchuk said.

However, city council members say they are constantly hearing complaints from concerned Kyivans – especially parents — about the easy availability of tobacco and alcohol on the streets. While street sales of hard alcohol were banned many years ago, the measure would broaden the alcohol ban to include beer and low-alcohol beverages as well.

“Kids manage to run to a nearby kiosk from school and buy Monte Carlo cigarettes to smoke during breaks,” said Iryna Kovalchuk, who has a teenage son. “Supermarkets are probably easier to control so that they do not sell to kids under 18 and so that they do not sell counterfeit goods.”

The Kyiv prosecutor said many kiosk owners break the law by selling alcohol and tobacco to children. “In 2010, 60 licenses for retail alcohol sale were revoked and 30 more were revoked during latest check,” said Myroslava Mushka, a spokeswoman for the Kyiv city prosecutor.

Members of the city council are sticking with their decision.
“Alcohol and tobacco are not sold in kiosks in civilized countries,” said Oleksiy Davydenko, one of the authors of the ordinance. “Mostly it is young people and teenagers who buy beer and low alcohol drinks in kiosks, so kiosks simply fuel alcoholism among youngsters.”

Alcoholism has long been a problem in Ukraine. The nation is 5th in per-capita alcohol consumption, according to the World Health Organization, with 15.6 liters consumed annually. Experts say consumption might be even higher, as many Ukrainians, especially in rural areas, brew and consume moonshine.

Ukraine is also among the world’s heaviest-smoking countries; more than 27 percent of adults smoking, according to WHO. Making Ukraine’s cheap cigarettes more expensive, through higher taxes, and out of easy reach of young people are keys to curbing the addiction that prematurely kills 100,000 Ukrainians every year. A prohibition on advertising and a ban on smoking in public places are two other effective methods of cutting smoking rates.

And some experts note that the city’s kiosk ban is not enough.
“Despite the legislation being quite adequate in Ukraine, with print and billboard advertising of alcohol forbidden, low prices for alcohol and tobacco make these products very affordable,” said Maksym Boroda, an expert from International Centre for Policy Studies.

Public health activists also say authorities need to promote healthy lifestyles and legally recognize beer as alcohol, making it subject to advertising restrictions. “For example, football is being associated with beer, because in all commercials, we are being shown happy fans with beer bottles,” said Oleksandr Pocheketa from Tvereza Ukraina (Sober Ukraine) movement.

However, other Ukrainian cities have also shown that action can be taken at a local level.
City councils in western Ukrainian cities of Lviv, Uzhhorod and Ivano-Frankivsk forbid the sale of beer and alcohol from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. in all kiosks and shops, except for cafes and restaurants.

Local police in Ivano-Frankivsk say that, since the ban went into effect in September, the number of crimes at night has already decreased. One city official said the next step is to forbid the sale of alcohol and tobacco in kiosks within 500 meters of schools and kindergartens. “Our town is quite small, so that would include a great deal of kiosks anyway,” Martsinkiv said.