The National Assembly voted on Tuesday to accept a government proposal to ban smoking in cafes, restaurants and all other indoor public places across Armenia starting March 2022.
Under a government bill passed in the first reading by 83 votes to 15, Armenians will also not be allowed to smoke whiling cars or buses. In addition, the bill imposes a blanket ban on any form of tobacco advertising in the country.
Indoor smoking will be punishable by up fines ranging from 50,000 drams ($105) to 200,000 drams.
Health Minister Arsen Torosian promoted the bill when it was drafted by his ministry and submitted to the government for approval in February. “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 at the time.
The proposed restrictions underwent some amendments after being discussed in the government and the parliament in the following months. In particular, it was decided that they will come into force in March 2022. Some lawmakers echoed restaurant owners’ claims that the ban on indoor smoking would hurt their businesses.
Armenia is a nation of heavy smokers with few restrictions on tobacco sales and use enforced to date. According to Ministry of Health estimates, 52 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.
Deputy Health Minister Lena Nanushian also warned of health risks posed by passive smoking when she presented the bill to the parliament on Monday. Citing surveys conducted in 2016 and 2017, she said: “More than 70 percent of pregnant women are exposed to secondhand smoke every day.”
“If all these measures take effect on the same day … we will have 1-2 percent annual decreases in the smoking rate among the population,” Nanushian told lawmakers.
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.