By Nane Atshemian
Armenia’s first-ever restrictions on smoking in public places appear to be widely flouted by tobacco addicts more than one month after their much-publicized introduction.
A special law that banned smoking in hospitals, cultural and educational institutions and public transportation means went into force on March 2. It was touted as the first phase of a government drive to curb tobacco use in the country. But skeptics warned at the time that the measure will likely prove ineffectual because the authorities have not put in place any mechanisms, including fines, for enforcing them.
There is little evidence of compliance with the smoking ban at the institutions covered by the law. “It is clearly not working,” said Mels Sahakian, a professor of economics at Yerevan State University. “There are still no special places set aside for smokers.”
“Smoking has somewhat decreased here in the last 15-20 days,” said another professor, Eduard Harutiunian. “But people still smoke freely. I am a chain smoker and I still smoke in the office.”
Actors at Yerevan’s State Theater of Comedy, most of them smokers, admitted that they did not even consider abiding by the ban. “I don’t like that,” complained one of them. “They want to impose American or European practices on us.”
“Can you imagine an actor not being able to smoke during a rehearsal?” asked another actor.
The situation in hospital seems similar. A doctor at the Kanaker-Zeytun Medical Complex, one of the biggest in the city, said its staff were notified of the smoking ban by the hospital chief early last month. “But that hasn’t made much difference so far,” he said. “I don’t see many people smoking in the lobbies now. But people continue to smoke in the offices. I personally do that.”
The anti-tobacco restrictions were also meant to apply to buses and other means of public transportation. However, the head of the Yerevan municipality’s department on public transportation, Tigran Ghazarian, pointedly admitted last week that he is not even aware of that.
Armenia reportedly has one of the highest rates of smoking in Europe. According to the Ministry of Health, more than 60 percent of Armenian men are smokers. That proportion is lower among women, but it is believed to be growing rapidly.