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Onishchenko's Words Of Wisdom

If and when Gennady Onishchenko goes, he'll certainly be missed. (file photo)
Reports that Russia's controversial consumer-protection head is stepping down might be premature, but mere talk of Gennady Onishchenko's exit is sure to lead many to reminisce about his colorful pronouncements.

Russia's chief sanitary inspector since 1996, Onishchenko has been criticized for health rulings and statements that sometimes appear to be politically motivated and at other times are just bizarre.

Here's a "Top 10" list of his more curious pieces of advice:

1. Don't eat snow, but do put it in your tea

In March, Onishchenko advised Russians to generally avoid eating snow but gave a caveat: "Sometimes you can afford to distill the snow and melt it for your tea," he said, according to "The great thing is that the [snow] water brings out the full aroma of the tea, unlike the hard tap water." He followed this advice with another caveat: "Don't drink too much snow-tea -- it'll rot your teeth."

2. Don't drink kefir and drive

At a 2012 public hearing on drunk driving, the doctor-in-chief veered slightly off topic, attacking a fermented Russian staple. "If you love kefir, then choose: Either drink kefir or drive," he said, according to "The Moscow Times." Some kefir has trace amounts of alcohol, but police said they were unaware of kefir-related traffic incidents.

3. Don't leave Russia, but do go to the Black Sea

In June, the top doctor advised Russians to avoid vacationing away from home. "I would advise most Russians to relax in the climate zone in which they are already living," he said, according to Interfax. Still, he said that children from the north should visit Russia's Black Sea coast. "They need the sun and ultraviolet light."

4. Don't study in Britain and certainly don't watch football there

During a swine-flu outbreak in 2009, Onishchenko said Russia should ban students from traveling to Britain. The same month, he recommended against attending a World Cup qualifying match in Wales. "As far as I can tell, fans express themselves with intense screaming," he said, indicating that this sports fandom phenomenon would add to the spread of germs.

5. Don't go outside, but do come to Moscow during fire season

In 2010, amid massive forest fires that enveloped Moscow in a cloud of peat smog, Onishchenko attempted to calm the fears of potential visitors. "If a businessman visiting Moscow stays in a hotel, or an office, or a car, it is safe," he said, according to AP. "As for tourists, some adjustments could be made. For instance, visit St. Petersburg first, where everything is fine, and then Moscow, when the situation improves."

6. Don't kiss

On the last day of "Maslenitsa," a weeklong Russian Orthodox holiday that precedes Lent, believers prostrate before each other, kiss, and ask for forgiveness. In March -- perhaps sensibly -- the health chief cited a flu epidemic in asking people to refrain from the kissing part.

7. Don't go to protests, lest you catch the flu

Just days after parliamentary elections in December 2011, Russian activists were planning what would turn out to be the first massive antigovernment demonstration in a decade. But the head epidemiologist advised Russians to reconsider: "With the increase of people falling ill that we are observing at the moment, a mass gathering of people on the streets could facilitate rapid flu infection."

8. Don't use air conditioning

Moscow summers can be stiflingly humid, but people should proceed with caution when using modern luxuries like air conditioning, warned the health head in 2012. Air conditioning "just counterbalances the adaptive ability of the organism," Onishchenko said in an interview with RIA Novosti. "People who sleep at night under air conditioning eventually end up getting sick."

9. Don't eat Ukrainian chocolate, Ukrainian cheese, Latvian sprats, Tajik dried fruits, Polish meat, Japanese sushi, or American cheeseburgers

Onishchenko is perhaps best known for using food as a geopolitical weapon. Russia's bilateral disputes have often resulted in the doctor condemning the sanitation standards of food exports of the countries involved. He has also called for Russians in general to be more "patriotic" in choosing their foodstuffs.

10. Don't drink Georgian or Moldovan wine, Georgian mineral water, or Belarusian or Lithuanian milk

Liquids apparently function like solids in Onishchenko's geopolitical brew. Wine was banned for seven years amid heightened tensions with neighboring Georgia. Analysts believe Moldova's hopes to sign an Association Agreement with the EU has led to the reimposition of a Moldovan wine ban and Moscow seems to have banned Lithuanian milk imports simply because Vilnius supports the agreement. Not so, said Onishchenko: a "sharp weakening" of consumer protection in Lithuania is the culprit.
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    Glenn Kates

    Glenn Kates is the former managing editor for digital at Current Time, the Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA. He now reports for RFE/RL as a freelancer.