The law enacted in February 2020 among other things banned supermarkets, smaller shops and kiosks from displaying cigarette packs on their shelves and advertising e-cigarettes and vaporizers in any way. It also required tobacco manufacturers to put starker health warnings on cigarette packs starting from January 2021.
Several pro-government lawmakers, including the chairman of the Armenian parliament committee on healthcare, proposed earlier this month that these anti-smoking measures be delayed until January 2022 for economic reasons. The parliament unanimously passed on Tuesday a relevant amendment to the law drafted by them and strongly opposed by the Ministry of Health.
The main sponsor of the legislation, Babken Tunian, has cited the need to shore up the Armenian economy which plunged into a deep recession following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Tunian, who represents Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s My Step bloc and heads a parliament committee on economic issues, has claimed the ban on promoting cigarette substitutes alone would cost local retailers at least $15 million in annual revenue.
“Nobody has a problem with the fight against smoking,” he said during a parliament debate on the issue. “We just need to achieve that [public health] goal in a maximally balanced way, without creating further risks for the economy.”
Deputy Health Minister Lena Nanushian dismissed these arguments. She insisted that the economic cost of enforcing the restrictions would be minimal and that Armenian businesses were ready to comply with them.
“The amendment submitted by the deputies will lead to an increase in the number of smokers at the expense of our children,” Nanushian told the parliament. She claimed that the one-year delay would cause 310 additional tobacco-related deaths in Armenia.
The anti-smoking law drafted by the Ministry of Health already underwent some changes before being passed by the National Assembly in February. In particular, the parliament decided to postpone until March 2022 a ban on smoking in cafes, restaurants and all other indoor public places.
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 women is much lower.