Smoking in the South Caucasus and tobacco policy in Azerbaijan

May 31st is World No Tobacco Day as declared by the United Nations. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), tobacco usage is the primary reason for chronic diseases including “cancer, lung diseases, cardiovascular diseases” among other diseases. According to WHO, as of July 2013, “nearly 80% of the more than one billion smokers worldwide live in low- and middle-income countries, where the burden of tobacco-related illness and death is heaviest.” Moreover, the general consumption of tobacco products has increased, although a tendency towards decreased consumption is observed in high-income and upper middle-income countries. In Azerbaijan, along with economic development, there is a tendency of declining consumption of tobacco products. This fact might also be associated with rising social awareness about the harm that tobacco causes to overall health.

The 2001 law of the Republic of Azerbaijan on tobacco and tobacco products covers several issues such as the prohibition of sales of tobacco products to individuals younger than 18 years old, restrictions on promoting the sale of tobacco products, and prohibition of smoking in health-care facilities, workplaces in public buildings, in all types of public transport, and in educational facilities except universities. Yet, the issue of banning smoking in public places in Azerbaijan has been consistently raised during sessions of the government’s legislative body (the Milli Majlis). However, the adoption of the law has been consistently postponed. Azerbaijan joined the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) in 2005 which implies that the signatories should apply six main tobacco control measures to reduce the demand for tobacco and its use.

These measures are known as “MPOWER” – “Monitor tobacco use and prevention policies, Protect people from tobacco smoke, Offer help to quit tobacco use, Warn people about the dangers of tobacco, Enforce bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, and Raise taxes on tobacco.” Unfortunately, the legal basis for enforcing these measures in Azerbaijan remains unsettled and unimplemented even though a national strategy on tobacco control was developed in 2010.

In Azerbaijan, according to Caucasus Barometer data, the number of smokers has decreased from 31% of the population in 2008 to 25% in 2013. 75% of Azerbaijanis say they don’t smoke which is similar to results in Armenia (70%) and Georgia (73%). Notably, Azerbaijan and Georgia have a lower number of hard smokers (those who smoke more than 251 cigarettes per week) which is 3% and 2%, respectively, compared to Armenia where 8% say the same.

In general, smoking is not popular among women in the South Caucasus; 98% of women in Armenia, 99% in Azerbaijan, and 95% in Georgia say they do not smoke at all. There are negative perceptions associated with women who smoke in the South Caucasus, and this attitude might affect the number of women who claim to smoke in the countries of the region. The situation among males is different; 48% of men in Azerbaijan and Georgia, and 37% of men in Armenia say they do not smoke. Additionally, the number of hard smokers in Armenia is several times larger than in the other two countries.

Smoking is most popular among middle-aged men (36-55 years old), and they also report smoking more cigarettes than younger (18-35 years old) and older (56+ years old) men.

Overall, there is a positive trend in the decreasing number of Azerbaijanis who say they smoke. This is particularly notable among young males. According to the CB, the number of non-smokers among men aged 18-35 has increased from 46% in 2008 to 54% in 2013. The situation with other age groups has not changed significantly. One reason for this may be that young people are usually more socially active, and the media and other pro-health organizations can easily communicate anti-tobacco messages to them. If you are interested in more data on smoking in the South Caucasus, please visit the Caucasus Barometer data here as well as the WHO website’s page devoted to tobacco issues here.


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