Saudi Smoking Grounds for Divorce

arab men smoking old city jerusalem
Smoking can cause cancer, emphysema, birth defects, and – in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – divorce.

Saudi Arabian authorities enacted a ban against smoking in government buildings, curbing a habit enjoyed by six million of its people. Smoking’s now banned at all ministries and government facilities in all provinces of the kingdom, according to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA). The ban extends to public places too, including restaurants, coffee shops, supermarkets and shopping malls. It also covers shisha smoking, which accounts for many of Saudi’s estimated 600,000 women and 800,000 teenage tobacco users.

Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s leading consumers of cigarettes and the ban is a significant step-up in the Kingdom’s anti-smoking campaign, which also prohibits tobacco sales to minors. Statistics say Saudis spend about $8 million a day on cigarettes. It’s expected that legislative restrictions and new views on the effects of passive smoking will hasten cultural change and help Saudis put down their smokes.

Last summer, a Saudi judge ruled that women who suffered as a result of their husbands’ smoking could file legal cases against them. “Legal rules applied in such cases could reach the stage of divorce,” Appeals Judge Ebrahim Khodairi told newspaper daily Al Watan.

The judge said that if a woman discovers that her husband is a smoker and that exposure to his second-hand smoke causes her to develop an allergy or other health issue, the marriage can be ended. But is it plausible that Saudi women will exercise this new right?

Interior Minister Prince Ahmed bin Abdul Aziz cited Islamic coda that urges the preservation of public health.  His directive noted that the negative effects of smoking on individuals and society in general have prompted several countries, including those where large tobacco companies are based, to limit the places where the products can be used.

“Since we are a Muslim country, we must be an example for other countries in applying the rules of Islam that call for preserving people’s money and interests and public healthcare,” the directives said.

There has been no public push-back on the restrictions, which came into effect at the end of July, and is reported to have given business owners a month to commence restrictions. Last year, Saudi banned smoking in its airports, joining Jordan, Israel, Dubai and Egypt in similar no-smoking rules for their airport terminals.

The effectiveness of this ban rides on rigid enforcement.  Changing the Middle East’s typically lax compliance with prohibitions on smoking may prove just as hard a habit to break.

Mikhail Levit /

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