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Lebanon's smoking ban difficult to enforce

In 2011, after years of lobbying, Lebanon finally passed a law forbidding smoking in enclosed spaces. But political instability and the lack of political will are slowing down the enforcement of the law.

BEIRUT: Lebanon has one of the highest smoking rates in the world.

In 2011, after years of lobbying, the country finally passed a law forbidding smoking in enclosed spaces.

But political instability and the lack of political will are slowing down the enforcement of the law.

In Lebanon, almost half of men and a third of adult women smoke.

Nearly a quarter of deaths in the country are due to smoking-related diseases – the country’s biggest killer.

In the 90s, the invention of flavoured charcoal made traditional water pipes very popular with young people, who like to go to the hundreds of nargila cafes that dot Lebanon's cities.

Such cafes and bars have widely criticised the smoking ban, which they believe is scaring away customers.

Michel Abou Merhi owns four restaurants in Beirut. He said the law is a step in the right direction but blamed it for reducing his revenue.

He said: “I think it’s a good law. However people tend to go outside more and stay less inside. That affects the business.”

The biggest challenge remains how to enforce the smoking ban.

In a country where rules are often broken, many restaurants and bars prefer to ignore the ban and pay fines instead of risking losing customers.

Dr Jade Khalife, head of research of the tobacco control programme at the Ministry of Health, said: “The security and political situation in the country has been very challenging to work in. This is a country that has had several governments in the past few years, and it’s the state's responsibility to make sure that people who break the law get fined.”

Activists are putting pressure on the Lebanese authorities to punish people who break the law.

Since 2012, 5,000 fines have been issued, but most of them remain unpaid.

It is still too early to measure the benefits of the ban, but the health ministry hopes the law will have a positive impact on smoking rates in Lebanon.

But smoking remains deeply rooted in Lebanese society and it could take years before the people can enjoy a smoke-free environment. 

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