– Serik Kerimbekovich, why did you initiate the adoption of an anti-tobacco law in Kazakhstan?
– The initiation of this bill was the result of my work as deputy chairman of the Public Coordination Council for Prevention and Combating of Smoking and Other Harmful Habits, established by the Government Resolution in September, 2000. Having plunged into “tobacco” issues, my colleagues and I came to the conclusion that this sphere of our life requires regulation at a constant systemic level. We carefully studied the current situation in our country, international experience, the reports of human rights organizations, including the world health organizations, financial monitoring and so on and conducted a considerable number of round tables and discussions at various venues. As a result, we began to form a clear position on many aspects.
At that time, I was a Member of Parliament (Lower House) and this was probably an additional “plus” to implementing our developments. As you know, the right of legislative initiative is realized exclusively in the Mazhilis (Lower House) and, the parliamentary tribune allowed me to voice the thoughts and aspirations of the members of the Coordinating Council and, in general, all people who are not indifferent to this issue.
We often discussed the issues of tobacco control with my parliamentary colleagues, they also argued and debated. Most of them had a clear understanding of this problem. And finally, in June 2001, the bill was presented in the Mazhilis. I am grateful to my colleagues, the Majilis members of the second convocation, Sergei Dyachenko, Hakim Kushkaliyev, Erlan Nigmatulin, who co-sponsored this project and made a huge contribution to formation of a fundamentally new legislation of our country.
– You and your colleagues studied the world experience. You could be guided by the WHO Convention, without adopting a special law?
– I would like to note that many of the most important and fundamental provisions of the convention were already contained in our law. That is, when it was adopted, the convention did not yet exist, it was adopted in 2003. We can say that in many respects we anticipated it. The convention you mentioned is a “framework”; it reflects the main goal, the essence of which is to protect public health from the devastating consequences of tobacco consumption. This was a WHO recommendation to all countries. And then, in any case, every country that supports an anti-tobacco campaign should have already adopted laws adapted to its economic conditions.
And it should be noted that Kazakhstan was one of the first to enter the international “no smoking” space.
– As you know, everything new is always implemented very slowly. In your situation it could have been different?
– You rightly mentioned the “barriers” faced. In my opinion, it is quite normal that you feel suspicious about innovations. Yes, even among colleagues, we felt suspicious about it, especially those who smoke. There were long discussions, heated debates and the lobby of the tobacco companies. In general, it was difficult, but it was an interesting experience. In the end, for many, the need to adopt this document became obvious, as the country lacked the legislative base for implementing the state policy on prevention and restriction of tobacco smoking, the regulation of relations in the production area, sale and consumption of tobacco products in order to reduce the incidence of the population. There was an acute need to create a system of measures to reduce tobacco advertising, reduce and control the content of the maximum permissible harmful substances in tobacco products, restrict the places of their sale and smoking.
It should be noted that the support of the anti-tobacco movement was at the highest state level. The activities of the coordination council, the creation of platforms for discussion and a number of other events are truly a colossal work of all involved, and the most important is the political will of the Head of State. Nursultan Nazarbayev always actively promotes a healthy lifestyle, putting the public health at the center of his policy. After all, he knows and understands that a healthy lifestyle is one of the keys to the well-being of the nation, its economic wealth and the ground for a stable and healthy society.
And in April 2002 we submitted the draft law that had already been finalized, taking into account all amendments, to the Mazhilis consideration. When discussing the bill, some of my colleagues suggested starting with themselves and making the Parliament building “a zone free from smoking”. Then there was a discussion in the Senate, and then there was a conciliation commission between the two Chambers. In general, we went through all the stages of the law-making process.
In June 2002 the Mazhilis and the Senate of the country adopted our bill, and on July 10 the Head of State signed it.
– For 15 years the country has been living according to this Law. How did the situation change, in your opinion?
– If to be correct, in 2009 when the Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan “On the public health and the health care system” was adopted, the current Law “On Prevention and Restriction of Tobacco Smoking” was fully included in this code as its separate chapter. In the working group we discussed and decided that this is the most optimal variant, when everything will be accumulated in one document.
You know, to pass the law is still half the battle. Further implementation of its norms, their correct application, and control over their execution is no less difficult work. After the adoption of the law, our coordination council continued its activities and we often received information about tobacco products being sold to minors and in the area of educational institutions, a “single-piece” sale of cigarettes, and the facts that manufacturers incorrectly label them and make warning signs on them. We tried, as far as possible, to respond to all violations, informed state agencies, and organized voluntary raids. And we were happy that a “breakthrough” occurred in the public consciousness, the society has become not indifferent to this problem.
– You were a Majilis deputy of three convocations. What other legislative initiatives do you consider the most significant?
– In my first convocation, I was elected on the party list of the Republican political party Otan (Fatherland), and then ran for a single-mandate district from Kordai, Moyinkum and Shu districts of Zhambyl region. Voters asked many questions. Someone asked for help with the loan, someone had housing problems. In general, a very wide range of pressing issues. We also worked closely with colleagues from maslikhats who raised issues on a regional scale: somewhere we had issues of local importance, such as a lack of social facilities and water supply, production sector. And sometimes there were interstate issues, for example, on transboundary rivers and bank protection works on the rivers. All this required additional budgetary expenses. And, we, the deputy corps, together with the Government, tried to solve the tasks set.
Speaking about the significance of the initiatives, personally for me, it was my initiative to amend the current Law “On Administrative and Territorial Structure of the Republic of Kazakhstan” on changing the status of the former “urban-type settlements”. In my electoral district there were six such ones: Akbakay, Aksuyek, Mirny, Mynaral, Hantau, Shiganak in the Moynkum district. But they remained “settlements” only on paper. In fact, they were already the rural settlements (they had a little more than a thousand people), while the population of these settlements was classified as urban residents, and people living there could not enjoy the benefits provided for rural residents. For example, teachers and doctors did not receive a 25 percent premium paid to this group of budget workers in the villages, services of Kazakhtelecom were paid at the city rate.
To transfer these villages to the category of “settlements”, according to Article 11 of the above-mentioned Law, it was necessary that more than half of the population would be engaged in agricultural production. However, the residents of these villages could not engage in organized agricultural production, because there simply were no agricultural lands and these settlements were once formed under uranium and gold mines. When we began to study the issue comprehensively, it turned out that in general there are 119 settlements in the republic with similar problems. Accordingly, this required a large budget.
A large joint commission was created with the participation of ministries and departments, since any government decision is always required for any “costly” amendment. Our Committee on Ecology and Nature Management, whose secretary I was then, organized a large extended meeting of the Committee in my electoral constituency. And there, the representatives of the Government and Parliament could see with their own eyes the need to resolve this issue.
If to return to your question, then one of the important results of my deputy activity, I think, was the solution of this problem.
– Thank you for such an extensive interview!
– Thank you, and, using this opportunity, let me congratulate all Kazakhstanis on the upcoming Day of the capital. Peace, good and prosperity to every home!
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