The Armenian Ministry of Health has called for a legal ban on smoking in public places and a sharp rise in the prices of cigarettes, citing the need to reduce the large number of smokers in Armenia.
Health Minister Levon Altunian unveiled on Wednesday a new “anti-tobacco strategy” drafted by his staff and submitted to the government for approval.He said a corresponding government bill will likely be sent to the Armenian parliament in November.
“Armenians are a law-abiding nation,” Altunian told a news conference. “Armenians like novelties. Armenians like being healthy and successful.”
“I am convinced that we will succeed in defeating this evil,” he said. “The best way to do that is to target [smokers’] pockets, rather than minds.”
Under the ministry proposals, excise duties levied from cigarettes would be raised by 15 percent annually from 2017 through 2021. The government would also prohibit smoking in government and private offices, as well as all restaurants, cafes and bars. The owners of such businesses failing to comply with the ban would be fined an equivalent of as much as $10,000.
“It all boils down to this: if you want to smoke, go out, smoke and come back,” said Aleksandr Bazarchian, the director of the government-funded National Institute of Healthcare. “Nobody is telling people not to smoke.”
The ministry is also seeking a complete ban on all forms of tobacco advertising. Armenian TV and radio stations were banned from airing such commercials years ago.
According to ministry estimates, 55 percent of Armenian men are regular smokers. The smoking rate among women in the socially conservative society is much lower: 3 percent. It is considerably higher in Yerevan where around 10 percent of women aged between 30 and 40 are tobacco addicts.
The Armenian authorities already took a set of anti-smoking measures over a decade ago. A special law that came into force in 2005 banned smoking in hospitals, cultural and educational institutions and public buses. Additional restrictions introduced a year later required other entities, including bars and restaurants to allow smoking only in special secluded areas. But with no legal sanctions put in place against their violation, those measures proved largely ineffectual.
Skeptics are now questioning the authorities’ ability and willingness to enforce the new and tougher measures advocated by the Ministry of Health. Babken Pipoyan, who heads a non-governmental consumer right group, is worried that some restaurants may be allowed to flout the smoking ban and thus gain an unfair competitive edge.