An appealing cigarette advertisement placed in newspapers comes with two cigarettes attached, carefully wrapped in transparent cellophane. That ad was available to everyone and offered real temptation especially for teenagers, for whom such material offers an incentive to take up the smoking habit.
A year ago health care specialists hoped that the adoption of a law project on cigarettes would introduce restrictions in this area. However, in March 2004 the National Assembly rejected the law On Cigarettes for the second time. Cigarette commercials and propaganda got back on track after that and, according to sales statistics, the number of smokers started growing.
According to statistics today around 70% of men in Armenia are smokers. There’s no precise information regarding women since many hide their addictive habit. However, experts believe that smoking is increasing rapidly among women, partly out of a popular view that a woman who smokes is stylish, modern and sexy.
Health care specialists are particularly concerned by the situation among teenagers, which they say indicates a lack of attention in Armenia to the seriousness of smoking.
“They smoke everywhere, in cafes, even in buses,” says the chairman of Human Health charitable organization David Petrosyan. “If you try to reprimand someone you’ll either be considered a bad person or you’ll get an ironical smile, since the law defining this field does not exist and anti-smoking control in Armenia is very weak. And doctors are not ready to explain to people the real threat of this habit.”
Petrosyan says that the law On Cigarettes could change the situation to some degree by beginning to curtail the epidemic of smoking. It proposed serious restrictions on cigarette advertisement, smoking in public places and in many aspects of this sphere.
Color advertisements in newspapers and magazines and on TV would have been prohibited. Smoking would have been banned in schools and at other institutions for children, while cigarette companies would have been barred from sponsoring TV and radio programs for youngsters . (A current law on advertisement places certain restrictions on cigarette advertisement, but the law has been mostly ignored since the new law was rejected.)
“Diseases, disablement and mortality from smoking have reached unbelievable levels among us today. The indexes on lung cancer are causing concern,” says Petrosyan. “Unfortunately, MPs don’t take the situation seriously. The draft law was rejected in a similarly unserious atmosphere, since no one thought that by rejecting law they would not be elected tomorrow. The public has to change its opinion on this issue.”
Public opinion in Armenia may appear indifferent now, but Alexander Bazarchyan, the anti-smoking project coordinator at Armenia’s Health Ministry, says individuals and organizations that are interested in this issue will do everything to change the situation.
“The law has already been rejected twice but, a year on, the anti-smoking fight is now pretty active,” says Bazarchyan. “Non-government organizations, media have become more active, new events are being organized.”
Petrosyan says there will be a fresh attempt soon to pass the law in the National Assembly. He says: “We’re working and doing some clarifications in that direction. The anti-smoking struggle is not something of one or two days. At the end of the day, the rights of non-smokers have to be protected as well.”
Bazarchyan says an anti-smoking campaign under the slogan “Cigarettes and Poverty” is planned in Yerevan on May 31, which is World Anti-Smoking Day. A website is being opened (www.tobaccocontrol.am) with information and statistics on smoking in Armenia, and there are plans to publish a book setting out the real dangers of cigarettes.