Anti-smoking campaign must change minds as well as habits

Dying for a Cigarette: Anti-smoking campaign must change minds as well as

30 April 2004

By Marianna Grigoryan reporter

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 () with information and
statistics on smoking in Armenia, and there are plans to publish a book
setting out the real dangers of cigarettes.