Armenia Considers New Anti-Smoking Legislation…Again

Photo: Ronan Shenhav/Flickr

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.

‘The country is not an ashtray.’ (Illustration: Karine Vann)

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).

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.

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.

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Raffi Elliott

Weekly Columnist & Armenia Correspondent
Raffi Elliott is a Canadian-born entrepreneur and occasional journalist who likes to ramble on about socioeconomic and political issues in Armenia. He lives in Yerevan with his family. He also holds a masters degree in International Relations.
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6 Comments

  1. Omg I hope it’s not smoking the restorants.i m coming from los Angeles we don’t have smoking restaurants.i can’t eat.or breathe in that kind of environments. don’t care about themselves those smokers😞

  2. It seems like it’s only been in my lifetime that the US implemented anti-smoking policies. As recently as the 1970s, hospitals allowed smoking!

    It’s amazing that marijuana (which is not addictive and has no adverse health effects) is still illegal while smoking (which is addictive and has all manner of adverse health effects) is legal.

  3. that’s not enough to make restaurants smoke-free, make social advertising campaigns running on medias, bring the awareness to the people. so often, I am a witness in private areas, where parents smoke by their small kids and infants. that’s terrifying.

  4. This is a great idea, the health Minister should act fast.in addition to banning smoking in Restaurants , they should ban smoking for teenagers. it Is very sad to see 13, 14 years old boys smoking.
    They should start the education at the schools as well. Unfortunately these boys think they are a man and they link smoking to masculinity.
    Education with all side effects must be available to all (media, schools etc).
    we need healthy people to keep this country growing.

  5. Hasmig,
    What’s wrong with the guy in the picture? He looks healthy, as a matter of fact, he’s so healthy looking, If you have to ask him not to smoke in public places, most likely he will kick some butt. Now, that’s a healthy boy. The moral to my sarcasm is that, there’s no way possible, you will educate a smoker. Only, they will decide when to quit, most likely after being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. By then it’s too late baby, ciao.

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