Enforcing Smoke-free Workplaces in Jordan

smoking cigarette jordan cartoon

I just spit out my coffee. About to move house for the fifth time in as many years, I take a day to escape the cardboard box Himalayas towering in the living room.  Plus there’s heavy construction going on next door, and it sounds like all of Amman’s stray cats are in heat. I grab a laptop and head to the nearby Taj Mall Lifestyle Destination, to experience a 90s cliché: sit in a coffee shop and quietly write. I fire up the Internet. See a news alert from The Jordan Times: Jordan featured as regional pioneer in enforcing smoke-free business environments? (There goes that coffee.)

Last month in Dubai, Jordan’s leading drug manufacturer, Hikma Pharmaceuticals, and King Abdullah II Center for Excellence (KACE) represented Jordan along with King Hussein Cancer Center (KHCC) at the World Congress on Cardiology.

The event, co-organized by the World Heart Federation and the Global Smoke-free Partnership (GSP), brought together regional leaders to strategize how to “reduce the burden of smoking on businesses” and to broadcast the upside of smoke-free work environments.

The congress also launched the Arabic version of “smoke-free-in-a-box”, a toolkit to guide employers through the dance steps of creating a smoke-free workplace. Created by the Cancer Control Office in partnership with GSP, the guide features Hikma as a stellar example of a no-smoking Middle Eastern business. The company kicked off their tobacco ban way back in 1994.

Hana Ramadan, Head of HIKMA Corporate Communication, stated, “Hikma believes it is essential to promote healthy living. We remain committed to encouraging our staff and their families to cut down or stop smoking altogether; this is a great opportunity for us to share our approach and success with other organizations in the region.”

This is all good stuff. Green Prophet has frequently reported on smoking in the Kingdom, and throughout the Middle East. Every attempt to curb Jordan’s tobacco addiction deserves support and respect. But what exemplary organizations like Hikma really need to share are strategies for enforcement.

Through the cigarette smoke, I can make out the No Smoking signs. 

Pictograms ensure that the message is clear, whether you speak Arabic or English. Yet, in the two dozen chairs arrayed in this coffee shop “courtyard”, 17 are filled with smokers.

At this particular Lifestyle Destination, there are smokers in the grocery store, smokers at the eyeglass shop, and smokers topping up their cell phones. Why bother passing a tobacco ban, and installing clear signage, if enforcement is not bringing up the rear?

At the cardiology event, KACE Executive Director, Yasera Ghosheh, said “KACE believes in the importance of social responsibility, and one of our adopted fundamental concepts of excellence is taking responsibility for a sustainable future.”

I agree with Mr. Ghosheh’s assertion that excellent organizations must ensure a safe and healthy environment for their workers. But until those organizations carry a big stick, change doesn’t stand a chance.

Jordan’s government changes more often than my 14-year-old before a school dance. Given the shortened shelf-life of politicians, it would appear they are maximally free to give a strong voice to hard issues. There’s minimal fallout if one of the Ministers (Health, Environment) takes a stand on smoking.  The bans are in place, all that’s needed is to enforce them.

Incite celebrities and sports icons to broadcast the message?

Maybe get a Royal to jump onboard.  And why not do what most other countries do? Raise taxes on tobacco products and channel resultant revenue to related health programs or stepped up awareness campaigns. Specifically aim to discourage new users.  Start now focusing on plain smokes; ride the momentum into the next generation to tackle shisha.

Another cliché from the ‘90’s, motivational guru Anthony Robbins, has made millions demonstrating how people will do more to avoid pain than they’ll do to gain pleasure. Jordan’s smokers feel no twinge of discomfort.  Smokes are cheap, blatant disregard for adopted public policy is the norm. There’s just no pain.

Maybe too much Catholic schooling in me, but people need to start enforcing the rules.

Image of Middle East smoker from Shutterstock

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5 thoughts on “Enforcing Smoke-free Workplaces in Jordan”

  1. Laurie says:

    Elias, AlmondJoycie, and Hana

    Thanks for the great comments.

    Hana: a remarkable accomplishment for HIKMA to go smoke-free almost 20 years back. Have you insight into why that program was successful? (Guessing they didn’t treat employees to AlmondJocie’s “punch-in-the-stomach technique, although it’s probably effective.)

    Green Prophet reporting on smoking typically gets positive feedback. A challenge is harnessing that popular anti-smoking support into actual change.

    Please continue to share your ideas, they might start a movement.

  2. Hana Ramadan says:

    Thaank you Green Prophet for your witty constructive feedback. You have actually inspired me to try to organize some kind of a corporate forum to share the “smokefree in a box” toolkit which is really quite useful and has tips, a timeline and deliverables.
    That’s what I can do to be of help on a corporate level but we should all try-in our small ways-to work towards a smoke free Jordan; it really is a shame and quite disgusting how our youth and full fledged adults alike, smoke all over the place with absolutely no regard to the fact that they are hurting themselves and others alike.

    1. Way to go Hana! This is the kind of news we love to hear.

  3. AlmondJoycie says:

    Yeah, enforcing it. That’s the hard part. Those ugly pictures on the cigarette packs have no effect. I’m thinking that whoever buys a pack has to endure a punch in the stomach from the cashier, but that’s just my gut reaction.

  4. Elias Sabanekh says:

    We as Jordanians have irrational fears about earthquakes, bird flu and nuclear leaks, we also seem to have irrational ambivalence towards the real dangers that affect our health, doing little to live healthier lives, exercise, fight first and second hand smoke and treat the roads with the reverence they deserve.
    I think the prevalence of smoking in Jordan is really alarming and simply out of control.

    I love this country and really hope that one day the Jordanian government strictly enforce health law47 and make Jordan a smoke free place.

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