MOSCOW, February 18 (RIA Novosti)
Healthcare Ministry to Test Students for Smoking
Underage smokers will be identified by blood and breath tests. All schoolchildren aged ten and older will be required to take tests as part of an annual health checkup.
The ministry has approved a new health examination program that will include ultrasound testing of the liver, kidneys, heart and the thyroid; plus hormone tests for teenagers 14 and older and an ultrasound of the reproductive organs.
Additionally, children age ten and older will be tested for smoking through blood analysis and smokerlyzer tests. The tests will identify carboxyhemoglobin and carbon monoxide, both by-products of smoking.
Some 35 billion rubles ($1.2 billion) will be allocated to the compulsory medical insurance system in the effort to examine 26.7 million Russian children.
Some medical authorities say the tests are simply not conclusive.
“The results of tests like this must be one hundred percent reliable. But carboxyhemoglobin is an unstable substance. Carbon monoxide levels will only show an increase if a child has been smoking right before the test,” says Alexei Shabashov, Board Chairman of the Health Regions Association.
He adds that children will be tested with a smokerlyzer that only shows a positive or negative result but does not show an error rate. A urine sample could be more effective in showing traces of nicotine. However, it would still be unclear if smoke was inhaled or if it was the result of passive secondhand smoking.
“The smokerlyzer will indicate if the child has recently inhaled smoke but it doesn’t mean he or she smokes. Maybe the child’s father was smoking while driving him to school. A regular smoker will likely refrain from smoking for a few hours before the test,” says Shabashov.
Yakov Turbovsky, Chairman of the Principal’s Council, believes the tests are unnecessary. Teachers usually know who is sneaking off for a smoke, he thinks.
“What we should actually realize is that schools have no real moral influence on children. Physics teachers teach physics, literature teachers teach literature and that’s all they do. If a child starts smoking, both the child and his or her parents probably need counseling. Currently, schools cannot provide child counseling services to so many families. There is usually one psychologist for 800 to 1,400 students. Many schools have had to eliminate the position due to cost reductions.
Drug therapist Veronika Gotlib explains that people, both children and adults, are prone to develop an addiction based on four variables: genetic predisposition, a psychological need to belong (smoking can help a child identify with a specific group), social approval (adults smoke and society apparently approves) and immaturity (the inability to distinguish between good and bad). Gotlib believes an addicted child would require help from their parents and therapists to stop. But naturally, treating the addiction might be pointless if the child’s parents smoke.
There are 44 million smokers in Russia including children and teenagers. About 400,000 deaths annually are caused by smoking.
Defense Ministry Contractor Faces Fraud Charges
The Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office has established that the Defense Ministry allocated over 150 million rubles ($4.9 million) to the Repair and Operations Department of state-run military contractor Oboronservice for the repair, renovation and maintenance of military bases. The department’s officials have allegedly embezzled 50 percent of this sum. Now it is on the verge of bankruptcy.
The Repair and Operations Department, which has dominated the distribution of heat to military bases, signed state contracts for the maintenance, renovation and repair of military bases in 2010-2011, as well as heating distribution contracts, without any open tenders, according to the Prosecutor’s Office.
The department was supposed to establish market pricing for heating distribution and signed a contract with EnergoConsult, which acted as co-executor and devised the charges in question. The value of the contracts exceeded the market value for heating services, analysts claim. EnergoConsult failed to calculate most of the charges and to submit them to regional energy commissions. The Repair and Operations Department managers who knew about this supposedly ordered their subordinates to accept the costing. They also allegedly signed fictitious records of acceptance to pay for the services delivered.
The state incurred damages in excess of 80 million rubles ($2.6 million) as a result of this fraud. The suspects in the case could be charged with fraud and malfeasance. The estimated damages could increase because the final amount will only be established if a criminal case is opened, thus requiring a thorough audit.
The Repair and Operations Department and Defense Ministry officials allegedly did their best to obstruct the investigation. Military prosecutors were supposedly denied access to essential documents prior to the resignation of Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov. The results of the investigation have been submitted to the Main Investigation Directorate of the Russian Investigative Committee, which will decide whether to open a criminal case.
The nearly bankrupt department is currently liable for over 2.2 billion ($73 million) rubles’ in outstanding debt. The money is owed to energy companies and fuel suppliers. Sergei Shoigu, the new Defense Minister, has now been forced to address these urgent problems, thanks to his predecessor.
Internet Providers Will Have to Disclose User Details
The State Duma, the Russian parliament’s lower house, is working on a bill that would require Internet and hosting providers to disclose information about users suspected of crimes.
Deputy speaker Sergei Zheleznyak told Vedomosti he is working on a bill which would help establish the identity of persons suspected of cybercrimes. The plan is to require telecom operators and hosting providers to disclose user details for users registered on their servers to law-enforcement authorities. Most reputable resources have user verification systems. Users can select the level of online privacy they want until they commit a crime, Zheleznyak said. However, if someone is suspected of a crime, user anonymity should not be a barrier to an investigation.
The lawmaker also proposed holding hosting providers liable for their users’ crimes to better motivate them to cooperate with the authorities. Internet companies would only have to provide technical support to investigators if a complex crime is committed with the use of botnets. The bill is not aimed at removing online anonymity entirely, he added. The bill will be ready this summer.
Operators and hosts are actually obliged to provide information to security agencies, Vimpelcom spokesperson Anna Aibasheva said. “We disclose any information that agencies request based on a court order, including user identification by number or IP, their connections, traffic and financial transaction data.
Under existing law, telecom operators are required to provide any information that investigators request, in some cases with a court order, said Valeria Kuzmenko from MTS. However, there is no technical means to identify a user by an account on some web resources or to track their activity online.
There are established opportunities for cooperation between law-enforcement and service providers, said Irina Levova, an analyst with the Russian Association of Electronic Communications (RAEC). The law on communications requires operators to provide user information at the investigators’ request, while the Administrative Offences Code stipulates a responsibility for failure to do so. It would be more practical to fully exploit the potential of existing legislation rather than to impose a law enforcement function on the providers themselves – something they are not set up to do – along with the related costs and responsibility for a reluctance or inability to perform this function.
Russian law provides for identifying a user, and law-enforcement authorities actually have the resources and technical ability to do this, said Tatiana Komarova, spokesperson for Russia’s biggest search engine, Yandex. Therefore, it is difficult to understand what the new law would change here, unless the plan is to outlaw online anonymity altogether.
It would also be difficult to enforce, considering the specifics of online interaction, the technical aspects of using it and the web operating principles in many countries.
Forcing providers to identify users and track their activity would change the Internet environment in Russia, limit ordinary users’ possibilities and create barriers for online business, Komarova said.
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