Today I rode the avtobus, our local mode of transportation, from the center of town back to our neighborhood. Boarding the bus after me was an elderly man who was smoking a cigarette. He entered the bus and continued to puff on his cigarette even though there is an ordinance against smoking on public transportation in Armenia. Immediately a woman rose from her seat and approached him as he sat down in front of her. She said loudly, “CHE” (No! in the Armenian language) and waved her finger at his cigarette. She began coughing violently, barely able to catch her breath. The man looked surprised but immediately tossed the cigarette onto the street from a cracked bus window and sat back in his seat. The woman continued to cough a raspy, dry, non-productive, coarse, irritating cough for the remainder of the trip. She appeared to be struggling to breathe and would cease coughing briefly only to resume the spasmodic episodes again. Other riders showed little sympathy, staring and pointing at the woman in question. She had definitely been affected by the second-hand smoke of this unthinking man, and others were treating her as if SHE was the problem, not the cigarette smoke which negatively impacted an innocent person.
As in many situations, this brief observation led my thought processes to health issues in my new country. Of nagging concern is smoking, a huge cultural, societal and health problem in Armenia. From what I read and hear, little progress has been made towards reducing the number of new smokers or gaining interest in smoking cessation. In various statistical reports, Armenia is noted to be a country with one of the highest rates of smoking, especially among males. Young boys begin to smoke during their teens and if they have not already begun to smoke by age 18, becoming involved in mandatory military service prompts many of them to pick up the habit. Second-hand smoke is rarely mentioned yet many of David and my acquaintances and friends do acknowledge the fact that smoky environments are distasteful and they’d rather their children not smoke. The woman on the bus with me was one unfortunate example of the effects of second-hand smoke in addition to the huge direct impact smoking has on the individuals who actually light up and smoke the cigarettes.
In previous posts, I’ve confessed to the decision not to address this huge problem at my school for fear of losing credibility needed in pursuit of other projects. But both students and faculty smoke IN the building. Armenians smoke in restaurants, in concert halls, anywhere they wish, despite weak ordinances disallowing such practice. And yes, bus drivers even smoke while driving, thus exposing the entire vehicle’s passengers to second-hand smoke. As I rethink this issue, I feel guilty for not doing SOMETHING towards the education of children, at least, regarding the dangers of smoking. Remember the large grants and amounts of money spent in the U. S. in the 80’s and 90’s in attempts to educate Americans about the same problems? It was the “Tobacco Money” which paid for countless programs directed towards smoking cessation and avoidance of tobacco products in general. Now we know that a joint plan of education and cooperation of tobacco producers, advertisers, health facilities, government, and others, can eventually make a difference and help to lessen a country’s life-threatening health problem. It is distressing, though, to see that U. S. statistics related to new teenage smokers indicate rising numbers at younger ages. Maybe some of those efforts should be revisited before the issue becomes critical again among our young people. I was involved in the educational process as a nurse during those years where so much focus was upon the hazards of smoking. In Armenia, I am now an English teacher. However, there’s no reason to abdicate my responsibility as a health care professional just because of a title.
I realize that with more than one year to DO something important, just as with the problem of HIV/AIDS, an educational focus needs to be my mission. I will begin with small group education of young people. My English Club will be the first to learn of this agenda. Although I am not totally in agreement, I recall the educational pieces available in the U.S which utilized the fear factor in trying to gain the attention of young people regarding WHY to avoid smoking. I welcome suggestions from readers of the Church Health Reader. I have already begun searching the internet, but please share your knowledge of current materials I might request, especially pictures, new approaches to this problem, or any other thoughts on ways to impact even a few Armenians. My personal e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org if you would so kindly assist with this project.
Shnorhakalatyun, (thank you in Hayeren—Eastern Armenian language).