Interview with Viktoria Pleskachova
Monday, March 25, 2002

Student of the Ukrainian State Maritime Technical University
Age 18

by Lisa Houston

In the summer of 2001, Vika advertised cigarettes on the main pedestrian street in Nikolayev. She dressed in stylish clothing provided by the cigarette manufacturer and approached passersby, trying to persuade them to trade the pack of cigarettes they were smoking for a full pack of the brand she was offering.

Q. How did you find your job?

V: A friend of mine who worked for them told me about it.

Q. How long did you work for them?

V. I worked from the beginning of August until October.

Q. What did you like about this job, and what did you dislike?

V. Generally, they paid well and I was able to make some money. Also, I was able to meet and talk with a lot of people; I met about 200 people every day. But it was also difficult to be talking all day and describing the product over and over again and to walk around in the heat for four hours in the afternoon.

Q. And what company did you work for?

V. Mostly JTI - Japan Tobacco International, and there were also Santa Carlo cigarettes, Winston.

Q. And the young men and women that worked with you; were they also about your age?

V. Yes, everyone was about 18 years of age since it's illegal to work if one is younger, but in general they try to attract young women to work for them.

Q. Were there any kind of warnings or trainings as to how to go about your work?

V. Yes, there was a training where they told us information about the product, and then afterwards they chose who would work for them. There was a small amount of competition.

Q. How could you tell the age of people who approached you? For example, if teenagers approached you, could you tell whether or not they were underage?

V. Oh, we were warned not to approach pregnant women and in fact not to approach women, and not to sell cigarettes to those who looked younger than 18. They were very strict about it; you could lose your salary over it.

Q. And how can you tell if someone is younger than 18 - how can you tell the difference, say, between those who are 17 and those who are 18?

V. By their appearance, of course; certainly you don't ask for their passport. You just look at them and see whether or not they look 18.

Q. But don't you think that some girls who are 15 or 16 look a lot older than they actually are?

V. There are, of course. There are even girls who are 13 that look like they are 20 years old. But most of the time I tried to only approach adult men.

Q. Would younger women ever approach you themselves?

V. Yes, that happened sometimes, but not all that often.

Q. What did you think of the uniform you were supposed to wear?

V. I didn't really like the uniform for Monte Carlo, the hats were terrible….we wore hats, t-shirts, backpacks…nothing special.

Q. Do you smoke?

V. No.

Q. Why not?

V. People asked me that on the street, as well…"And do you smoke, young woman? No? Then why are you offering me cigarettes?" I would tell them, "You made your choice, and if you smoke, then that means you like it; no one is forcing you do it. I'm just an advertisement like you might see on television: I'm offering you information or something new." After all, I never forced anyone to smoke. Those that don't smoke, that's fine, don't smoke.

Q. Don't you think that when people pass by a cigarette advertisement it influences their subconscious and makes them want to smoke?

V. Well, of course it's like that, that's what advertisements are supposed to do and nothing is going to change that one way or the other; personally I'm not against cigarette advertisements.

Q. How do you feel when someone next to you smokes - does it bother you?

V. I hate the smell of smoke, and try to make it so that people around me either don't smoke or smoke off to the side.

Q. And what about the people who worked with you selling cigarettes, did they smoke?

V. Around me they didn't smoke, I always tried to distance myself from any smoking.

Q. Did anyone ever come up and hassle you about advertising cigarettes?

V. Yes, there were lots of situations like that!

Q. Really?! What did they say?

V. There was one woman from some kind of health center that came up and lectured me that I'm so pretty and could have found myself a better job and she was really dramatic about it, but I told her, "Offer me a better job that pays well that also makes allowances for my studies, and I'll agree!" And there were a lot of other people as well, mostly elderly people, who were loudly against my selling cigarettes…but I left that job, I don't do it anymore.

Q. Was it because of that, or was that one of the reasons?

V. Well, the thing is, I agreed with that lady. Therefore, how can I contradict her? I agree that it's better not to smoke. That's why I would say that it's just my job; it's just how I'm making money.