Lebanese civil society organisations and citizens welcomed parliament's passage of a bill in August that limits smoking in public places and bans tobacco advertising.
Parliament adopted a draft law August 17th to "limit smoking and regulate the manufacture, packaging, and advertising of tobacco products in Lebanon". The law became effective in public institutions and places September 3rd and will be applied in restaurants and cafes by September 2012. The ban on tobacco advertising will begin in February.
A coalition of civil society organisations, including the Tobacco Control Research Group at the American University in Beirut, the Free Life Without Smoking Association, and the IndyAct organisation (League of Independent Activists), advocated for the bill's passage. The coalition partnered with media and members of parliament who supported their cause to apply pressure to have the bill passed.
The Tobacco Control Research Group believes that implementation is the most important step now that the bill was passed.
Dr. Rima Nakkash, the group's co-ordinator, told Al-Shorfa, "What sets this law apart is that it imposes a complete ban on smoking in enclosed spaces, imposes penalties on violators, and prohibits advertising in the media and promotional sponsorship."
Nakkash said there is a weakness in the new law. The finance and health ministries would need to approve placement of a pictorial health warning on cigarette packs. Such action requires a ministerial decree which is time consuming, according to Nakkash.
"The law has great potential to reduce health care costs to citizens and the government, contrary to claims made by company owners about its negative effects on the economy," she said. "Lebanon loses over $50 million annually because of the costs to treat diseases caused by smoking and passive smoking. More than 3,500 Lebanese die every year from smoking-related illnesses."
A World Health Organisation study conducted in 2005 reported that 80% of Lebanese children are passive smokers owing to their exposure to smoke, 60% of adolescents between 13 and 15 years old smoke, and 90% of adolescents are influenced by tobacco advertisements.
The study showed that Lebanon has the second highest percentage of smokers in the Arab region, and the highest percentage of women smokers at 35%. About 7% of women in the Arab world smoke.
Lebanon ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in December 2005 but has not abided by it.
Rania Baroud, deputy chairman of the Free Life Without Smoking Association, said she is very happy the law passed which "corresponds to the demands the coalition made against smoking".
She, however, objected to a provision in the law that permits smoking in 20% of hotel rooms. She said activists will work to ensure the law is fully implemented and continue to press for more demands, particularly raising cigarette prices.
The law prohibits offering or advertising free samples of tobacco products, providing any tobacco product to minors, and displaying tobacco products in a way that gives the consumer direct access to them.
It also prohibits publication or broadcast, free or paid, of any publicity about, or advertisement of, any tobacco product as well as any form of sponsorship of any cultural, sports, or business activity.
The fines vary depending upon the violation, ranging from $666 to $2000. A repeat violation could result in imprisonment and a larger fine.
Paul Areis, president of the Restaurant Owners Association in Lebanon, said restaurant owners care about the health of citizens and workers in restaurants, but the owners have two complaints about the law.
"The first is not allowing restaurants that serve Lebanese food to offer shisha," Areis said. "The second is the concern that not all establishments will abide by the law."
Joe Abrass, a director for a company that owns a chain of popular restaurants in Lebanon, said, "We support health preservation in Lebanon, and it's been a long time coming for such a law especially because some patrons of our restaurants demand smoke-free sections."
"It would have been better if the law had permitted the existence of smoking and non-smoking areas rather than move from no law at all to a total prohibition," he said.
Abrass said small restaurants that depend on shisha, which has recently become widespread, would be more affected than other restaurants.
Nadine Sidani, who is in her 30s and has smoked for several years, welcomed the law, saying, "The law will help me cut down on smoking, especially in cafes and restaurants."