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

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.

9 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.

  6. I don’t know about before 2002 when I first set foot in Armenia, but in 2002, it was awfull. Artbridge Café on Abovyan was the first to introduce a non-smoking area, but you had to go through their main room where you could cut cigarette smoke with a knife, to get to the non-smoking area. A valiant effort was made by repat Raffi Kojian on his Cilicia.com webpage. We started reporting restaurants and caffés that offered non-smoking space. Kojian put-up the first list/map I know of showing public places offering relief to non-smokers But at the time cars, trucks and buses burned leaded gasoline and diesel-fuel and you couldn’t breathe outside either.
    I remember the Armenian Medical Association of Ontario sponsoring a smoke-quitting project, but when I asked for information from the person supposedly responsible for it, there was no response. The AUA also sponsored such projects and I have a photo of a poster sponsored by USAID with the big title: “Մի վնասիր Չծխողներին” which for the first time changed the focus of the campaign towards protecting non-smokers (2006). My wife and I did our bit by installing a non-smoking sign in our home and offering interest-free loans to people who would stop smoking. We pride ourselves that our interventions empowered women to ask smokers in the family to go outside to smoke.
    Armenia has made some progress, but there is still a lot to be done and I salute the “AOC” Minister for the new legislation. Raffi, Please let us know when it is passed.

  7. From 1976 o 2012 made repeated trips to Armenian. Was horrified to see so many people smoking and
    commented to a local resident that the best thing the National Health department can do is to find a way
    to educate the public and with united support groups starting at the elementary schools find a way to honor
    those who pledge not to smoke because they will avoid the health problems that will surface in those with’
    a history of smoking.

  8. It is good that government of Armenia is seriously pushing for its citizens to stop smoking. Smoking effects the entire body and not just lungs, Second hand smoke is just as bad around all non smokers. There should be no smoking in all public places, schools and other places. Vape style smoking is also bad. Your health is important to you and others around you. Japan recently passed a law no selling of cigarettes to anyone under one hundred years old.

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