Armenian Government Steps Up Anti-Smoking Legislation

YEREVAN (A.W.)—The Armenian Ministry of Health recently drafted a bill to ban smoking in public areas in Armenia and heavily fine those who do not comply with the anti-smoking law. This new step comes after the anti-smoking strategy, announced last August, that sought to reduce smoking rates by 30-40 percent.

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

The bill is part of a countrywide effort to reduce the large number of smokers in Armenia as well as high rates of lung cancer. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) Cancer Country Profile for Armenia from 2014, lung cancer accounted for 1,680 deaths, or 4.9 percent of the country’s total deaths (37,000). In 2015, Armenia was ranked by the World Cancer Research Fund International as having the 15th highest incidence of lung cancer in the world.

According to statistics from a survey contracted by Armenia’s Ministry of Health and conducted by the WHO from 2007 to 2010, 55 percent of men in Armenia smoke cigarettes, as do 3 percent of women. The more recent Cancer Country Profile for Armenia (cited earlier) places those numbers slightly lower: men, 47 percent; women, 1.9 percent.

 A chart from the WHO’s Cancer Country Profile for Armenia, which shows that lung cancer was the cause of 1,680 deaths in 2014 (4.9 percent of total deaths, and nearly 21 percent of all cancer-related deaths)

This is not the first set of anti-smoking measures that the government has embarked on. According to a report for the Center for Communications, Health, and the Environment, a law was initiated in 2005 that banned smoking in hospitals, cultural and educational institutions, and public buses. Additional restrictions introduced a year later required that other entities, including bars and restaurants, to allow smoking only in special secluded areas. Those measures, however, have not been very effective so far.

The new bill promises to extend the ban to cafes, bars, restaurants, government offices, and even elevators, and people caught smoking in these locations can receive fines of up to 250,000 AMD ($520 USD)—a figure that exceeds the average monthly salary in the country.

While many citizens are embracing the new measures, some smokers in Armenia have started organizing to oppose the ban. An event on Facebook called “We Must Smoke” is one example, in which smokers plan to gather in downtown Yerevan to protest the draft law on Feb. 1.