• May 26, 2024

Tough on tobacco

 Tough on tobacco

As part of a new strategy to curb tobacco use, the Armenian government on Thursday announced plans to restrict smoking in public places and raise cigarette prices, according to a story in The Asbarez Post.

Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan’s cabinet was said to have approved the program, which aims to reduce the level of smoking in the country by a targeted amount during the next three years.

According to Ministry of Health estimates, the prevalence of smoking among Armenia’s adult population is more than 25 percent, while that among men is 55 percent.

The Health Minister, Levon Altunyan, said the planned anti-tobacco strategy included wide-ranging measures that would “toughen” rules on smoking in offices, restaurants, cafés and bars, raise cigarette taxes and ban all forms of tobacco advertising.

Speaking to reporters, Altunyan would not say whether there would be a blanket ban on smoking in public places. He said instead that these issues would be clarified when the government sent a package of bills to parliament this fall.

Altunyan insisted that Armenian companies manufacturing and importing cigarettes had not lobbied the government to water down the planned measures.

“We haven’t asked for their opinion either,” he added.

Arsen Torosyan, a doctor and anti-smoking campaigner, cautiously welcomed the government’s plans. “I hope that at least part of what has been declared will be implemented – cigarette prices will be raised, smoking will be completely banned in public places and tobacco advertising will be banned in full,” he said. “This cannot fail to cut the number of smokers because these methods have been successfully used all over the world.

“The key thing here is political will,” Torosyan added, pointing to the failure of a five-year anti-tobacco program adopted by the authorities in 2010.

That program was supposed to reduce tobacco consumption, but government data show that the proportion of heavy smokers in the population increased from 23 percent in 2012 to 26 percent in 2016.

A law that came into force in 2005 banned smoking in hospitals, cultural and educational institutions, and on public buses, while additional restrictions introduced a year later required other entities – including bars and restaurants – to allow smoking only in special ‘secluded areas’. However, since no sanctions were put in place to deter those inclined to ignore the regulations, the measures proved largely ineffective.