View Full Version : Russian Anti-Pot Agit-Prop

24-02-2004, 18:08
While checking out at the local supermarket here in Moscow I saw something being sold on the candy rack that was at first both perplexing and frustrating. It was a package of four plastic cigarette papers decorated with pot leaves, along with three packets of flavored tobacco (light, menthol and vanilla) for a price of about $1. In Russian the package read “RUSSIA WITHOUT NARCOTICS!” against a background of marijuana leaves (which is what grabbed my attention in the first place). On the back it shows a pot leaf inside a red "anti" circle with a slash running diagonally through it. Underneath that – and this was perhaps the most ridiculous – it had a silhouette of two guys, side by side. The one on the left was hanging his head looking down at his flaccid penis, while the one on the right was smiling proudly while sporting a hard on! The implication being, of course, that if you smoke pot you will become impotent, whereas if you don't you will become a major stud. Above this were other slogans – “QUIT SMOKING!” and “HEALTH MINISTRY OF RUSSIA WARNS: SMOKING HARMS YOUR HEALTH”. By the way – collect all ten designs and they’ll send you a T-shirt! Honest! I can only imagine what the other nine pictures look like.

Yet upon closer examination the product becomes fascinating, for several reasons. Perhaps the least of which is the fact that a law passed by the Russian government last October effectively bans any commercial advertisement that could be construed as promoting "illegal narcotics". This legislation was adopted after a major mobile phone company conducted an outdoor ad campaign featuring billboards festooned with pictures of pot leaves – obviously aimed at the youth market segment. In the months since the campaign was abruptly halted, store owners in Russia have been arrested for selling hemp beer, books on marijuana, or even T-shirts with pot leaf designs. Talk about KGB tactics. So at the very least, this product appears to be in flagrant violation of this law, which many have been calling an overt form of censorship. And in Russia, getting arrested for pot is no joke – you can spend up to three years in prison without bail for being caught with a roach. And landing in a Russian prison is for many a death sentence due to the prevalence of tuberculosis (I personally know someone whose young husband died of TB while waiting in pre-trial detention for charges to be filed).

Legal niceties aside, the product also sends a graphic message that smoking pot causes impotence. What a load of bull – for many, smoking pot can be one of the most powerful aphrodisiacs. Smoking heroin (which is technically a “narcotic”, whereas cannabis is not) is another thing entirely, but I don’t see any poppy flowers on the label. This product is therefore perpetuating a myth and using youth scare tactics to do so. It was sending a clear message to kids that pot is evil, whereas hard-ons (and by extension promiscuity) were OK. Now I have nothing against hard-ons per se, but after having read that Russia’s HIV/AIDS infection rate was the fastest growing in Europe, this message is at best on shaky moral grounds. In general, endorsing erectile function amongst a youth audience (like this is really necessary?) is questionable when considered in the context of a broader public campaign against what is probably the world’s worst pandemic ever.

Then, of course, there’s the grossly hypocritical message that it’s less harmful to smoke cigarettes. Nicotine is arguably the most harmful and most addictive drug ever known to man, but not if you believe the message this product is pushing. The instructions are simple and easy – you are supposed to pack the papers with the tobacco provided. But underneath the papers (and you have to buy and open the package to see it) is a disclaimer that the company is not responsible for “unintended use”. Indeed! Extracting the tobacco from a cigar or cigarette and then replacing it with marijuana is how you would make a “blunt”, which is one of the world’s most popular means of smoking pot. And I can hardly imagine a cooler paper for smoking pot than one covered with pot leaves and the wording “RUSSIA WITHOUT NARCOTICS”. You can find such papers at any head shop throughout Holland or any of the other countries in Europe (most recently the UK) that have come to their senses and begun to slowly bring their drug policies into line with social realities.

Ah, the irony…and then I suddenly got it. The distributors of this product know *exactly* what they are doing. In effect, they are using the pot leaf as a sly marketing tool while paying lip service to the draconian anti-drug campaign that is currently being waged by the authorities. One must realize that the Russian character is deeply infused with a sense of irony. So on the surface, what we have here is a message that pot is evil, and that cigarettes are a preferable alternative. But the underlying reality here in Russia is that it’s cool to be ironic, and packing these papers with real herb and not candied tobacco is an excellent way to express that.
I guess what I *really* want to know is how long it will take before the authorities realize they are being made fun of and remove the offending product from distribution. In the meantime, I can only shake my head while marveling at the brilliant marketing expertise.

24-02-2004, 18:22
I don't get it. Are you a stoner or not ?

24-02-2004, 18:35
Not in this country I'm not.

24-02-2004, 19:25
A stoner with a boner, then ? :)

Polia Ivanova
24-02-2004, 22:47
I remember the year 1988 – fellow students got stacks of the stuff freshly delivered from sunny and hot Kirgizstan which was the part of the same country so no borders, no customs, no checking on the way back. And no anti-cannabis law by the way – we didn’t have drug users in USSR so smoking pot wasn’t illegal.

Those were the days my friend...
And education was free too...but Communism is bad...
where I am...
Anyway – I tried once didn’t like it…

25-02-2004, 00:13
I tried it several thousand times and then decided I didn`t like it. ;) Polia !! And I thought you were so innocent ! :) ;)

25-02-2004, 09:27
Many people try communism once.

Really the just say NO adds got it right.

25-02-2004, 09:32

I think you have, in fact, "hit the bowl" a few times, despite your protest claims of "not here" to the contrary. I know I sure would like to after having read your post.

What exactly is your point, though, with this veritable novel of a post ? That the product is not banned as per your first "closer examination" seems logical enough to me, afterall, there does not appear to be any blatant ambiguity in the image you describe. íàîáîðîò, its clear outward message, as you point out yourself is, to paraphrase into Amercanese "Just Say No".

That many people in Russia actually do use rollers for their own cigarettes should come as no surprise. I'd reckon that self-rollers number far greater here than back home as a result of poor Soviet grade tobacco. Far be it for you, a self-described displaced stonor, to actually consider the possibility that those rollers might actually be used for something OTHER than weed, but take my word, they are. Two of my good friends roll their own, and I'm not referring to Her Highness, Mary J. Just plain old smokes. I think it's highly (no pun intended) likely the owners preferred to distance themselves from a culture of drug-use and narcotic.

But even if the producers of these papers hit a three-foot graphix bong loaded with ice (to keep it nice and cool) with shake-free fine bud, you know, the Hawaiin sort ? You ever tried that, by the way, shit, I digress. Even if they are pot-partakers, so what ? Have you never witnessed similar marketing hypocracy in back home ? How do you think they market all the drug paraphernilia in the US ?

"This pipe is designed specifically for illegal drug use !"

You'd be shut down quicker than you could say "Jerry Garcia". It has nothing to do with Russian character and irony. It has everything to do with public image.

Last, I think all evidence points to the contrary of your innocent objections. "No, not me, man. No here. No way. Oh, did you say reefer ?" Dude, you were f*ckin spacing out staring at a pack of roller papers ! You wrote a manifesto on it ! How high were you ? Come off it. There's nothing philosophical here at all.

Peace Out, Brah,

P.S. Score me some of that stuff you were smoking, would ya ?

25-02-2004, 14:11
Greetings Mr. Limitchik,

Thanks for opening up discussion of my post, which BTW was not primarily intended for expat.ru. I just thought it was relevant to what I see going on here in Russia as regards the authorities' crackdown on pot as a scapegoat in their broader public health campaign against much more threatening drugs, such as heroin. Notice this does not include the 'legal' drugs nicotine and alcohol, but I digress.

In your original post, you asked if I was a "stoner". And I answered that I wasn't -- HERE IN RUSSIA -- a place where I've lived for more than ten years. In any event, please define "stoner" for me so I can properly answer. And I'm talking about specifics here. Judging by the tone of your reply, I guarantee you would never believe me. Based on what I *think* you mean, I can assure you I am nothing of the sort. Hard to believe? Well tough -- deal with it. And I don't appreciate you calling me one either. Or your sarcastic ad-lib commentary.

As for the pot-leaf decorated papers with the message RUSSIA WITHOUT NARCOTICS being used with tobacco, yeah, I guess it is possible. Just as it's possible someone would pack a bong or vaporizer only with tobacco and smoke that. I just don't think it occurs as often as you seem to imply, and I'm not talking about Arabs and their water pipes either. *Of course* I realize people roll their own tobacco cigs...I just don't think there are many people, here in Russia or elsewhere, who also feel a need to send an anti-pot message while doing so. Who would even see the anti-pot slogan on the paper? IMHO, going around advertising a "Just Say No" message is decidedly *uncool*. And rather hypocritical, if you ask me, considering that many of these same people are PHYSICALLY ADDICTED to the drug nicotine. JUST SAY NO TO NICOTINE, now *that* is something that just might be considered cool, especially in this country where men die on average at age 57 and three-quarters smoke regularly.

My post was admittedly wide-ranging, and I never attempted to make an argument leading to a single conclusion. Rather, it was an attempt, albeit modest and apparently confusing judging by your reply, to shed a little light on a few related issues that might interest a primarily U.S.-based audience. Next time I'll take that into greater consideration when cross-posting to this forum.



25-02-2004, 14:41
You make a few points rather eloquently, and what you say has plenty of merit. What I take to be your central theme, however - the irony of an anti-pot message on one side of a roller and cannabis leaves on the other - is only slightly more ironic than the "Surgeon General's Warning" printed on every pack of cigarettes and in every cigarette ad in the US.

Furthermore, your blanket condemnation of the hypocrisy inherent in anti-pot campaigns in Russia against the backdrop of nicotine and alcohol abuse/addiction is rather unfair (to Russia at large) and definitely out of place. Why not look at your own (and mine!) country first and begin your criticisms there? Can you argue as eloquently that the exact same hypocrisy is not very much in place in the US, given the HUGE disparity between the reactions to pot and other controlled substances and those to cigarettes and booze? I don't know any exact statistics and don't feel like making any up on the spot, but I recall reading they cost the American taxpayer an inordinate amount of money through Medicare and other public medical expenditures/support programs, yet nobody has jumped on the "make 'em illegal" bandwagon, at least not so far. Again, though we could further debate on the root cause (money, I'm sure), this is every bit a hypocritical approach to the treatment of tobacco and alcohol in the US as what you claim is going on in Russia.

You'll lend yourself much more credibility if you avoid such one-sided generalizations as the one(s) I feel you made. I think the US audience you describe can handle it.

25-02-2004, 15:00

First off, let me state that I actually intended no offense by use of the word "stoner" which I don't actually view as having a negative connotation to begin with. In my odd book of definitions, it refers to someone who partakes frequently and hence gets "stoned". It was purely in a humorous context (as were some of the other off-hand comments in my response, as well as my first reply-question). At one point, many would have referred to me as such. I recall those times fondly.

Next, let me reiterate my question-point on whether you've seen similar actions/campaigns elsewhere back home (I'm--perhaps erroneously--assuming you're from the US, too). I asked not to disprove or disagree with most of what you wrote, which I find I mostly agree with, but to highlight that this isn't strictly a "Russian" issue. Maybe there is a degree of hypocracy. Whether or not the manufacturers of the papers are aware of the subtlety of their marketing is, to me, in the framework of these boards' purpose--to discuss Russia-- irrelevant. You had mentioned something connecting this with the cliched "Russian Character" issue. That's primarily what I was taking point with.

Third, having spent the better part of ten years here myself, I would contend that papers here do have a higher percentage of use among non-pot-smoking buyers. Those papers have a very legitimate use and you appear to answer your own question in your original post as to why an anti-pot message would be included. If other companies have been shut-down or severely penalized, wouldn't you, as a manufacturer of a legitimate product, want to distance yourself as far as possible from any implied use combined with illegal drugs ?

Last, I do indeed find your thoughts (conclusion-less or not) interesting. Hence my response. My apologies if my normally jocular style was perceived as overly sarcastic.


25-02-2004, 17:09
Thanks again Limitchik and sfjohns67 for your replies. Apologies accepted, although I am also guilty of reading too much hostiilty into the tone of your email. It is a hazard I often fall victim to in emails and on other message boards, so let's just bury the virtual hatchet and proceed with the debate...

Yeah, I am from the US (New York) and reserve a special dose of criticism for the actions of Ashcroft, 'Drug Czar' Walters and his ilk in the DEA and the Justice Department for their crackdown on medical maijuana cooperatives in California. I believe his actions are shameful and abusive from the standpoint of patients' and states' rights. The prosecution of "Pot Guru" Ed Rosenthal is perhaps the best example of this. Another high-profile example is the jailing of Tommy Chong, best known for his role in the series of "Up in Smoke" films from the 70s and 80s. Chong was imprisoned last year for having sold his "Chong Glass" line of glass pipes over state lines. You may have even heard of the "Free Tommy Chong" campaign.

Ashcroft's campaign to limit judicial discretion in sentencing guidelines is another such travesty IMO. Even Supreme Court Justice Rehnquist has spoken out about this. Not to say that the Clinton administration and Janet Reno before him were any better - heck, they really got the ball rolling on mandatory minimums and the like. All from a president that "didn't inhale". Gimme a friggin break...

As for similar actions in the drug war back home -- I absolutely agree with both of you. The U.S. has clearly set an example by which other countries are "encouraged" to follow -- Canada is only the most recent example -- which is what probably worries me the most as regards Russia. I just can't figure out why the Putin administration would want to side with the drug policy of the U.S. while shunning those of neighboring countries in Europe. Russian officials keep on talking about the 'special character' of Russia and how solutions in one country aren't necessarily applicable to Russia. I for one don't entirely buy this argument. These countries in Europe have many years of social experimentation with this issue, and Russia would do itself a favor to not dismiss them out of hand.

In my opinion, the U.S. is exporting its drug war tactics as part of its larger war on terrorism, but I don't have the time or inclination to get into that debate here. Suffice to say it is greatly alarming, and has side-effects in areas such as freedom of speech (i.e. arresting shop owners for selling books or T-shirts showing pot leaves) and overall public health awareness. I just don't see how demonizing pot is doing much good in terms of solving real-life problems on the ground. I am encouraged, however, by some indications by Russian health officials that they *may* be open to some form of needle exchanges if it would help stop the spread of HIV. Now THAT is the kind of approach I find more reasonable and likely to achieve real results.

But since this is forum is dedicated to Russia, and since this is where I live, I decided to talk about the situation here. And yes, I was probably going too far when talking about irony and the Russian character. I actually find it very tricky when talking about the Russian character -- I guess there are as many opinions as people writing about them. So please forgive me if I offended anyone.

Thanks again for bearing with me, let's keep this debate going.



26-02-2004, 01:38
I don't smoke anymore, but I wholeheartedly support legalization because it would keep the drunks at home. I'm also a big fan of munchies, and stoners tend to improve the selection.

26-02-2004, 12:51
anyone really surprised?
america's religious right and russian putin/orthodox/comunism can't be progressive... extremes touch each other. no matter how opposite, they are the same. and naturally i'm a stoner. what i do to my body in my own privacy without affecting others is not any terrorist government's business. and now they won't let me marry my partner :(

26-02-2004, 13:56
I wish I could say I was a stoner, but it seems the stuff is far more readily available back in the uk the here. Lifes a bitch

26-02-2004, 14:31
Originally posted by Hunter
it seems the stuff is far more readily available back in the uk

u want some?

26-02-2004, 17:36
stuff is availible everywhere in Moscow you just should know the right people:D
I myself prefer alco, pot is not fun for me:)