Armenia’s Ministry of Health has called for a blanket ban on smoking in cafes, restaurants and all other indoor public places in the country.
A relevant bill drafted by the ministry was sent to the Armenian government for discussion and approval earlier this week.
Health Minister Arsen Torosian is actively promoting the initiative on his Twitter page. “The time has come!!!” Torosian wrote on Wednesday. “Choice must be made now!!! Move to healthier world or stay in sick world?”
“From now on I won’t visit any restaurant or cafe in Armenia that allows indoor smoking until our new tobacco control law is adopted,” he tweeted in English on Thursday. “I will also promote all restaurants that voluntarily prohibit smoking NOW!”
Torosian attached to that tweet a selfie with Environment Minister Erik Grigorian. The two men were pictured in a rare smoke-free restaurant in Yerevan.
Armenia is a nation of heavy smokers with few restrictions on tobacco sales and use. According to Ministry of Health estimates, 55 percent of Armenian men are regular smokers. Medics blame this for a high incidence of lung cancer among them.
The smoking rate among Armenian women is much lower: 3 percent. But in Yerevan an estimated 10 percent of women aged between 30 and 40 are tobacco addicts.
Armenian authorities have already attempted to curb smoking in the past. A law that came into force in 2005 banned tobacco 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.
In January 2018, the Ministry of Health put forward a bill that would heavily fine people smoking in indoor public places. The then Armenian government did not send the bill to the parliament before being brought down by mass protests in May.
Torosian, who was appointed as health minister in May, is behind the ministry’s latest attempt to ban indoor smoking. It is not yet clear when Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s cabinet will discuss the measure.
Aleksandr Bazarchian, the director of the government-funded National Institute of Healthcare, welcomed the bill. He said it would help to create “an environment where non-smokers don’t become smokers” and encourage tobacco addicts to kick the habit.
Arusik Mkrtchian, a Yerevan-based DJ and civic activist, also hailed it, dismissing concerns already voiced by some smokers. “There is no such thing as a right to smoke [in indoor public places,]” she told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “There is a right to health enshrined in the constitution."
But Hrach Davidian, who owns a popular night club in downtown Yerevan, objected to the proposed ban, saying that the government should seek to restrict smoking more gradually. He claimed that the ban would force many of his customers to smoke outdoors late at night and thus disturb residents of nearby buildings.