VLADIKAVKAZ, Russia -- The uncle of a 2-year-old shown smoking in a viral video says he gave the cigarette to his nephew in good fun, but authorities in southern Russia aren't laughing.
After police in the North Ossetian capital of Vladikavkaz received numerous complaints from fuming residents who had seen the video online, they tracked the family down and fined the uncle, Aslan Dzavlayev.
The video, which has been removed from the video-sharing site YouTube for "violating community guidelines," shows young Timur picking up a lit cigarette from an ashtray at the family's home and taking a puff.
The 2-year-old confidently blows out smoke as Dzavlayev's hand is seen, from the point of view of the cameraman, flicking ashes into the ashtray from another cigarette.
Dzavlayev asks the toddler whether he is a “good boy,” to which Timur replies: "I am a good boy,” as he blows out another cloud of tobacco smoke.
At least one other unidentified person can be heard laughing in the room during the nearly two-minute video but is not seen by the camera.
As the cigarette ash grows, Dzavlayev tells Timur: ‘That's enough. Put out your cigarette,” and the toddler complies by reaching to stamp his smoke out in an ashtray.
Dzavlayev tells RFE/RL that it was "just a joke, to make fun," but police took the complaints seriously enough to investigate the family for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
After questioning the boy's parents at their home in a middle-class neighborhood along the Moscow highway on Vladikavkaz's west side, they determined on January 24 that neither the mother nor father were home when the video was shot. But police accepted Uncle Dzavlayev's admission that he was responsible for encouraging the 2-year-old to “consume tobacco products.”
Dzavlayev was issued an administrative fine of 3,000 rubles, or about $50. The parents, whose names were not released by police, declined to comment to RFE/RL about the circumstances surrounding the video.
Recent studies show that underage smoking is common in Russia, where the legal smoking age is 18.
In 2015, Tobacco Atlas reported that 51 percent of Russian males over the age of 15 smoke cigarettes daily, and 16 percent of Russian males aged 13 to 15 regularly use tobacco products.
But there is a big difference between 2 and 13. Artur Kokayev, North Ossetia's ombudsman for children, described the case as “out of the ordinary.”
The video from North Ossetia is not the first to go viral with images of a 2-year-old smoking a cigarette, however.
In 2010, Ardi Rizal, a 2-year-old boy from a remote village in Indonesia became an Internet sensation and shocked the world as the “chain-smoking toddler” when photographs and videos appeared online showing him as he smoked 40 cigarettes a day. (Oddly, the video of Ardi has not been removed by YouTube.)
Ardi eventually went through years of rehabilitation with a leading child psychologist.
At first, he reportedly replaced his tobacco cravings with food and became obese from overeating -- a habit that required another round of rehabilitation.