It may come as a surprise to you that Lebanon implemented the indoor-smoking ban only on September 3rd, 2012. This may seem a little too late, and well, it is. Smoking has become a Lebanese trait. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Lebanon has the highest rate of school children smokers in the Middle East.
This is not a shock, as a Lebanese. Throughout my 20 years of life, I have always been surrounded by smokers. Whether it’s in relatives’ cars, homes or clothes, the smell of tobacco has become a background smell for me.
I cannot realistically expect to abolish smoking, which would be ideal since it harms one’s health, but Lebanon made a step forward (as cliché as it sounds). On September 3rd, not so long ago, law 174 officially made all Lebanese closed public spaces smoke-free.
While this seemed like a relief for many, mainly nonsmokers, many objected. According to Pierre Ashkar, the head of the Hotel Owners’ Association, “[a]round 1,000 cafes in Lebanon are specialized in nargileh and if they stop working, they will have to let 10,000 employees go.” This is a widespread concern in a society where the water-pipe (known as narguile or hookah) has been a staple in the café scene. People who shared this attitude took to the streets after the implementation of the ban and demanded for modifications. Some demand that the ban excludes the entertainment venues such as nightclubs, pubs and narguile cafes, since those who go there are aware of the fact that they will either smoke or second-hand smoke.
Other people protested with posters expressing their disapproval of the Lebanese government’s priority in making laws. They pointed out security and economic issues which need to be tackled, as well as the electricity and water crises we are living through in Lebanon.
Yes, as a Lebanese citizen I do agree that with them. We do have more important problems to resolve, issues like the: electricity shortage, water shortage, lack of enforcement of traffic laws, decreasing security, outdated laws, deteriorating infrastructure, etc. These are all issues we struggle with every day, and they are issues which need to be focused on soon. However, the indoor-smoking ban is indeed a positive step in the progress of Lebanon. Personally, I see it as a step in changing the Lebanese mentality. Before the ban, as a nonsmoker, I felt like if the smoke bothered me, I had to move away instead of having the smoker turn off the cigarette. Now, at least, I can finally enjoy a meal in a restaurant without incorporating the smell of tobacco into the taste of the flavors I am chewing. We can now at least hope that the smokers’ rate decreases, at least in its growth.
Whenever I see a young teen smoking, I blame us as Lebanese for accepting tobacco into our culture. We not only welcomed it, but it is now something so Lebanese that an indoor-smoking ban became a source of controversy amongst us.