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Ash Wednesday: Smoking Law To Take Effect March 1, but With Doubts and Questions

Armen Hareyan's picture

Smoking Restriction Law

Tobacco free Armenia? Maybe yes, but not for a few years.

A year after Armenia adopted a law on smoking restriction Armenian health activists raise another problem: How can the law be effective if there is no fine for breaking it?

On March 1, 2005 Armenia signed a law aiming to control tobacco usage and propagandize the healthy lifestyle.

According to the law by the March 2006 all public and state institutions should have special zones for smokers not to disturb non-smokers. The law restricts smoking in educational, health and cultural institutions as well as in urban transport, airports, bus and train stations.

During one year the number of smokers has not been reduced in Armenia, at least visibly, (there is no official data) as the smokers keep smoking in transport, schools, universities, restaurants and even in hospitals. There is a general belief that the law is ignored because it does not carry fines for violations. (There is, however, a heavy fine for selling to minors, though it is not being enforced.)

The law raises other questions on which body should be responsible for enforcement. At issue, too, is a lack of public education about the law.

Last year the Center for Health Services Research and Development of the American University of Armenia conducted a survey among the top managerial staff of 243 public and private institutions in Yerevan, Vanadzor and Gyumri. The survey showed that 38 percent of managers/administrators were unaware of the law.

Hranush Hakobyan, the Chairwoman of parliamentary standing Committee on science, education and culture and one of the initiators of the law admits that the law is not perfect however says that the law is just the first serious legal restrictive document on curbing tobacco use.

While Armenian lawmakers look for ways for better implementation of the law, a well-known Yerevan pediatric-surgeon has put in practice his own methods in fighting smoking.

It is more than a year since Ara Babloyan, a Professor of Pediatric surgery and Director of Urology of the Arabkir Medical Center suggest to parents of his patients to sign a contract with the hospital. The contract envisages that the child will leave the hospital (even during treatment) if his parents smoke in the hospital.

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"I think the biggest crime is when the parents smoke at the ward of a sick child," says Babloyan. "It is nonsense. I made the whole hospital a non-smoking zone and during a year there was not a single case when people smoke at the hospital."

Babloyan says he was a smoker, but quit several years ago.

"A law on smoking should be stricter, since doctors in other clinics keep smoking," the pediatrician says.

This year the Armenian Government confirmed its course on combating smoking, by allocating $220,000 in the state budget for anti-smoking programs.

Alexander Bazarchyan, the Coordinator of Tobacco Control Program of the Health Ministry says that the amount is to be spent on information campaign, such as social TV ads.

Bazarchyan says that one of the serious steps of Armenia is that it joined the Framework Convention on Tobacco control (FCTC), an international treaty initiated by the World Health Organization. According to the agreement, Armenia has some obligations such as outlawing cigarette advertising, which it has to fulfill before 2010, as well as implementing health warnings that cover at least 30 percent of every cigarette pack.

Surveys show that more than 67 percent of Armenian men and some three percent of women are smokers. According to the Ministry of Health, some 900 citizens died of lung cancer last year.

ArmeniaNow conducted a small survey among managers of restaurants, (where there are not separate areas for smokers) and asked their opinion of restricting smoking.

Argam Muradyan, the manager of Emile Irish pub said his place is "a real pub" and that even though the Irish have banned smoking in pubs, in the Armenian variant: "It is really hard to imagine this place without cigarette smoke."

At Bangkok, manager Shushan Misakyan, says more than 90 percent of her guests are smokers, but owners intend to divide the dining room for smokers and non-smokers.

Ashot Simonyan, the owner of "Texas," says he welcomes a smoking law, but not in his theme bar where clients come to "to smoke and drink, like in 'Westerns'."

"The foreigners who come here never complain of the smoke. Believe me, they smoke more than locals."