YEREVAN—The Armenian Ministry of Health is considering a new law which would prohibit smoking in public spaces. The bill would ban the use of tobacco products in cafés, restaurants, bars and municipal and government buildings. The legislation would also outlaw the sale of cigarettes within 100 meters from schools and ban advertisements for tobacco products. The government also expects to raise taxes on tobacco by 15 percent by 2021.
According to WHO data, Armenia has one of the highest smoking rates in Europe. Forty-seven percent of men and three percent of women are regular smokers (though the number of female smokers is much higher in the capital). The World Cancer Research Fund International ranks Armenia as 15th for the highest incidence of lung cancer in the world.
Since acceding to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), Armenia’s public health officials have attempted to clamp down on smoking since 2004. Armenia adopted its first tobacco control legislation in 2005. The government allocated 100 million drams (200,000 USD) per year to the anti-smoking campaign. Health warnings started to appear on cigarette packs. Smoking was banned in hospitals, schools, police stations and public transport. Despite these efforts, the population’s general ignorance of the adverse health effects and a lack of enforcement led to a lot of these directives being ignored.
The initiative had some modest success, however. According to the WHO, the proportion of smokers in the population dropped from 70 percent in 2004 to under 51 percent in 10 years.
In the restaurant space, smoking bans have taken the form of private initiatives. Eco-Pub, the first bar in Yerevan to ban smoking explicitly, opened its doors in 2012 but did not last. Other cafes, like Il Solo Gelato and the Green Bean, have fared much better. They inspired some other cafes and eateries to maintain smoke-free environments. Popular bars, like Simona and Sartre, have introduced “smoke-free nights” to their schedules. Non-smoking sections have also started appearing in restaurants all over the country. One entrepreneurial engineer even produced an interactive map of Yerevan showing non-smoking establishments.
Regardless, most restaurants and nightlife spots shied away from implementing similar policies, citing the fear of decreased attendance. Most of these establishments, bars in particular, rely on the patronage of smokers who might choose to go somewhere else when faced with smoking restrictions.
Under Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan, the Ministry of Health unveiled the first comprehensive plan to ban public smoking. The bill aimed at reducing the number of smokers in the country and included educational initiatives. Though anti-smoking activists praised it, others raised concerns over enforcement, corruption and unrealistic expectations; notably, a handful of smokers protested against the bill on Facebook. Nonetheless, the government approved the proposal on the third of August 2017. It did not reach Parliament for a vote before the government was overthrown in May of last year.
This new bill has been introduced by Health Minister Arsen Torosyan. The minister made headlines in January after announcing his plan for a single-payer universal healthcare for Armenia. He retweeted a comment calling himself the “AOC of Armenia” (a reference to newly-elected US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ calls for socialized healthcare).
— Lucy Bichakhchyan (@anstoragirslucy) February 6, 2019
Minister Torosyan announced the new draft law on Twitter in English calling his initiative “a civilizational choice.” He also shared a selfie with Environment Minister Erik Grigoryan sitting in a smoke-free restaurant in Yerevan. Torosyan has also been using neighboring Georgia’s recent indoor-smoking ban as a successful example.
🚭From now on I won’t visit any restaurant or cafe in #Armenia that allows #InDoorSmoking until our new #TobaccoControl law is adopted. I will also promote all restaurants that voluntarily prohibit smoking NOW! #CleanAir #BeTheChange pic.twitter.com/LpmlXmlmLn
— Arsen Torosyan (@AToros_Official) February 7, 2019
The proposal has not yet been made public on the government portal e-draft.am. The cabinet has yet to confirm whether it will discuss the plan.