The Armenian Ministry of Health has drafted a bill that would introduce a blanket ban on smoking in cafes, restaurants and other public places and impose heavy fines on people violating it.
The bill posted on a government website is part of the ministry’s efforts to reduce the large number smokers in Armenia blamed by medics for the country’s high incidence of lung cancer.
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 have proved largely ineffectual.
The new bill would extend the ban to cafes, bars, restaurants, government offices and even elevators. People caught smoking there would be fined 250,000 drams ($520), a figure exceeding the average monthly salary in the country. A repeat offense detected within three months would carry an even heavier fine: 500,000 drams.
Smoking inside public buses or minibuses and even at bus stops would be punishable by 100,000 drams. The fine for smoking bus drivers would be set at only 50,000 drams.
The bill, which the Ministry of Health has submitted to the Armenian cabinet for approval, also calls for some restrictions on sales of cigarettes and a ban on any form of tobacco advertising. Armenian TV and radio stations were banned from airing cigarette ads several years ago.
People randomly interviewed by RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) in Yerevan on Monday generally approved of the proposed anti-smoking measures, while objecting to the proposed amount of fines.
“It’s definitely about health and it’s is very good,” said one smoking man.
“In my view, it’s the right thing to do,” agreed another male smoker. “But how are they going to enforce the fines? The figure is too high. But I think they would be right to fine people.”
“Let them fine smokers. The state will get richer,” another Yerevan resident commented with sarcasm.
A middle-aged minibus driver criticized the proposed penalty for fellow drivers smoking at the wheel.“Fining is a wrong solution,” he said. “In this nervous job, people smoke to calm their nerves.”