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Armenian parliament approves new tobacco control law

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The Union lauds the Armenian Parliament which voted, on 11 February, in favor of a comprehensive tobacco control law.

The Union lauds the Armenian Parliament which voted, on 11 February, in favor of a comprehensive tobacco control law. Among its most important measures, the law enacts a ban on indoor smoking in all public places (cafes and restaurants), workplaces, and public transport; it also places a total ban on tobacco product advertisements, sponsorship and promotion; and mandates plain packaging. Perhaps most critically, the law imposes strict fines for violations.

Armenia has been an unfortunate anomaly in the South Caucasus region, failing to garner significant political support for and enforcement of tobacco control, even when neighbouring countries were effective in both.  A law in 2005, for example, banned tobacco in hospitals, schools, and cultural institutions but it—along with additional restrictions in 2006—proved ineffectual in the absence of specific legal sanctions for compliance violations. The government also tried to regulate tobacco in 2017 but the law never went into force.

“This new law is critically important,” said Dr Gan Quan, Director of Tobacco Control at The Union. “We have long been deeply concerned about Armenia’s tobacco epidemic and believe this new legislation can help create a much-needed sea change.”

Over 50 percent of Armenian men presently smoke regularly, and the country has the second highest number of male smokers in the World Health Organization European region. Not surprisingly, Armenia has a high incidence of lung cancer and has, according to Health Minister Arsen Torosyan, been not inaccurately referred to as an “ashtray.”

Torosyan, who became Health Minister in 2018, spearheaded the law, bravely criticising those who failed to endorse it. It passed the National Assembly in December 2019, with a vote of 83 to 15. At the February parliamentary debates, Torosyan’s deputy, Dr. Lena Nanushyan, reiterated the law’s urgency, noting, “Cigarette smoking is responsible for 10 percent of annual deaths in Armenia and this is a significant number.”

The indoor smoking ban will take effect in March 2022. Violations will incur fines ranging from 50,000 drams (US $105) to 200,000 drams (US $418).

During the period leading to implementation, The Union will continue to support the Ministry of Health and other partners who will undoubtedly experience significant opposition and pushback from the tobacco industry.

“History has shown us that there is no time to be complacent,” cautioned Dr. Gan Quan. “Armenia has taken an important step, but tobacco control advocates must remain vigilant, monitoring corporate interference that could derail progress.”