Lebanon passed a law banning smoking in all enclosed public places on Wednesday, with people who light up inside facing a fine of 100,000 LL ($66) and the owner of the establishment 3 million LL ($2,000). In February, the next phase of the law will come into effect phasing out cigarette advertising. The bill also calls for a pictorial warning of the dangers of smoking covering 40 percent of each pack of cigarettes.
According to George Saade—a cardiologist and program coordinator at the National Tobacco Control Program, a department within the Ministry of Health— “Ninety-two percent of people we interviewed were in support of banning smoking in public places.”
The Ministry of Public Health worked directly with the ministries of Economy, Tourism and Interior to pass the law. Lebanon had previously ratified World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2005 and was obligated to implement the law within five years, but was granted a grace period considering the political climate in the country since it signed.
But will people really put out their cigarettes in pubs and restaurants for good? NOW Lebanon hit the streets of Beirut to see what people thought of the new law.
“What about the person that’s been smoking for 20 years?” said a 43-year-old smoker at a sushi restaurant in Hamra. “They’re addicted to it. How can they expect them to stop smoking just because of a new law? There needs to be another solution. It’s unfair. Some people just can’t live without smoking.”
“It’s ridiculous,” said 25-year-old Rabia, who was sitting at a bar in the same neighborhood. “It’s insulting in a way to the freedom of smokers.”
A 24-year-old non-smoker in a Hamra bar, however, said she was happy about it. “I think it should be banned everywhere. Why are people making a big deal? People here will learn to adjust.”
“I’m a smoker and I support the law because I need something that is stronger than my willpower that will make me stop,” said 31-year-old Rita, who was sitting at a restaurant in Hamra.
Pub and restaurant owners are also of mixed minds on the new law.
A manager at a bar in Hamra who preferred not to be named said that while it will affect business at the beginning, in the long run people will get accustomed to it. “Smoke-free environments are better for ventilation purposes,” he added. “As long as people follow the law, then it won’t be a problem. This type of law has been implemented in countries like Dubai, Saudi Arabia and even Syria.”
But Annie, the co-owner of the Regusto Pub in Hamra, said that the ban “will negatively affect my business. How else is a Lebanese supposed to enjoy their time?”
Her husband and co-owner Arthur, however, agrees with the law, “because I am a non-smoker, but only if it will be implemented equally.”
Hanin Madi, manager at Bread Republic in Hamra, said that the new law “will definitely harm us on a short-term basis because it’s going to affect people; they’re going to need some time to get into a transition phase in order to accommodate themselves, but sooner or later they will fall into the system and it will work.”
“And I am definitely pro,” she added. “I am a smoker. I smoke at the bar, I need my cigarette when I’m drinking, but I will get used to it.”
But in a country with such lax law enforcement and with such a high percentage of smokers, will the law even stick?
A manager at a pub in Gemmayze, who preferred not to be named, said that “In Lebanon, we’ve grown accustomed to not following any kind of laws, so this will be the obstacle.”
“I think it will work in the beginning, but then later on people will stop following the law. Just like everything else here in Lebanon,” said 30-year-old Hala in Gemmayze.
“My issue is not smoking. My issue is with the government,” said Rana, 30. “Why is our parliament bothering with such silly things? There are so many other useful laws that need to be put into place and could be far more effective than this.”
“We’re Lebanese, we’re not law abiding citizens,” said a Gemmayze pub owner. “If it’s actually implemented and followed, then it will be effective.”
But “before they implement a law like this, they should work on providing us with electricity 24 hours a day,” said Walid, a pizza shop owner in Achrafieh.