The AUA School of Public Heath (SPH) partnered with the Armenian Volunteer Corps (AVC) to conduct observational research in tobacco advertising and promotion in Armenia.
On May 31 each year, the world celebrates World No Tobacco Day under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO) highlighting the health risks associated with tobacco use and advocating for effective policies to reduce tobacco consumption. The theme of this year’s campaign was “Ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.” Armenia was the first post-Soviet country to accede the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) that requires a comprehensive ban of all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship for all its Parties. However, Armenian national regulation assumes only partial regulation of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.
The AUA SPH partnered with AVC to conduct observational research in several areas of tobacco advertising and promotion to watch for Armenia’s compliance with the FCTC and the violations of national laws and to advocate for improvement of the national law and its appropriate enforcement. Dr. Arusyak Harutyunyan, Research Associate and Project Coordinator at SPH, has been leading joint efforts for the research ( ). Master of Public Health (MPH) students, SPH staff, and AVC volunteers and alumni participated in data collection and analysis efforts. The data were collected in May 2013.
The first area of research concerned cigarette claw game machines which have become widespread in Yerevan and the outskirts, but are against Armenian tobacco control laws ( ). Observations in 10 locations demonstrated that these games were very popular among children and teenagers. The machines were located in kid-friendly zones, including near ice cream stands, schools and arcades. In addition, their brightly-colored signs, cigarette packs mixed with balloons and toys as well as cartoon noises were alluring young children.
The second area of research was about indirect promotion of the smoking behavior in Armenian TV series (). Though not banned by Armenian law, the portrayal of smoking on television can glamorize and normalize the smoking behavior for the younger generation. Twelve different TV series were scrutinized for one week. The team found that some of them had the most smoking or cigarette scenes, while others had none. About 75% of the scenes took place indoors and 65% in the presence of others; in 25% of the scenes smoking was accompanied by drinking alcohol, thus demonstrating a set of unhealthy behaviors.
The last focus area was identifying positive and negative role models when it comes to public portrayal of smoking by celebrities (). Since these celebrities are often role models to the young, the research team surveyed 61 students at several high-schools to help identify the most famous role models in each of the five categories: musician, actor, TV personality, athlete and politician. Using Google and Facebook, the team then sought out public images of these celebrities smoking and found some examples of smoking and non-smoking role models. No smokers were found among the athletes.
On May 31, AUA SPH and AVC representatives shared their findings at a live streamed press conference at Media Center (mynews.am) and Public Health Seminar for health professionals and AUA community. DJ Vakcina, a long-time vocal supporter of anti-smoking efforts in Armenia who is a role model not only for the youth, but also other celebrities in advocating for healthy lifestyle, has spoken at both events.
The AUA School of Public Health works actively to improve the health of the populace and health services in Armenia and the region through interdisciplinary education and development of public health professionals and others to be leaders in public health, health services research and evaluation, and health care delivery and management.