Notes From Hairenik
January 12, 2008

A few days ago I returned from a two-week visit in Boston. During my adventures there I frequented a few bars, none of them being my old haunts. Yet it still doesn’t make sense to me—you can no longer smoke in any restaurants or bars throughout Massachusetts, a law that went into effect a few years ago as I remember because I was smoking at the time. Even when I was not smoking I did not mind the fact that people were doing so around me. I mean after all, I was frequenting bars and cigarettes naturally go hand-in-hand with alcohol, like coffee and sugar or eggs and bacon. You go to a bar to take part in revelry and escapism, not to simply have a drink or two amidst a room full of strangers in a boring, uneventful atmosphere that could pass for your own home, save for the large mirrors with the name Budweiser stenciled on them and random black-and-white photos affixed to the walls to create some sort of nostalgic aura. I imagine I accept smoking in public places since I grew up in a house of smokers.

In any case, it is refreshing to be back in good ol’ Armenia and walk into a place where I wish to light up a small cigar, namely a small, cozy restaurant as I anticipate my ajarakan khachaburi (the oval-shaped shallow bread bowl loaded with oozing Sulughuni cheese and two eggs sunny-side up). Here when you go to a bar you can feel free to light up while you chug beer or down shots of vodka. No one cares; it is accepted everywhere and you don’t complain since you wouldn’t be there anyway if you did not tolerate it. You have the freedom to choose to light up or not, and no one can tell you otherwise or shun you to huddle in a corner out in the freezing cold where you shake and shudder while skillfully trying to insert the cigarette between your lips. No, not in the motherland of all Armenians.

There are three places I know of where you cannot smoke: in museums, aboard public transportation (not including the driver of the bus), and in work places, depending on whether a policy is enforced. Everywhere else you go smoking is tolerated by young and old alike, and no matter whether or not they condone it.

I will say however that if you are going to permit your clientele to smoke, you should at least provide proper ventilation to release the noxious fumes. That is one major problem in this country—very few places have adequate ventilation. Such systems either don’t exist or come in the form of a small, 4-inch fan inserted into a wall that is supposed to serve as a device to change the air, but such things are totally useless, at least by my experience. I don’t know why proprietors of enclosed spaces do not consider proper ventilation when designing them. Apparently the door occasionally opening and closing is considered enough, I don’t know the mentality behind the hindsight I admit. Even brand-new places fail to install such systems. For a country so hell-bent on renovating according to “European standards,” there seems to be a slight mental deficiency amongst urban planners here.

Just a short time ago I found an interesting list of countries with policies on smoking in public areas. This is the quote about tolerance for smoking in Armenia:

Armenia banned smoking in educational, cultural, and health care institutions and public transportation in December 2004. However, the new legislation has not yet been effective as implementation has been difficult.

Great, isn’t it?

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