Enforcing Jordan’s Smoking Ban: Is the Kingdom Blowing Smoke?

Jordan enforces smoking banFive years following its ban on smoking in restaurants and other public spaces, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan will start enforcing the rules. By year end, government will also revoke licenses which allow an estimated 6,000 coffee shops to serve sheesha (the Middle Eastern water pipe used for tobacco smokes).

Smoking is so ubiquitous here in Jordan that motorists suck on miniature sheesha pipes while navigating city traffic, hospital workers light up cigarettes indoors, and beneath every “no smoking” sign in every city mall you’ll find people, well, smoking.

Law enforcement began in 2009 with shopping malls and Queen Alia International Airport first enacting the ban, followed by fast food restaurants. Smoking is banned in hospitals, schools, cinemas, libraries, museums, government buildings, and on public transportation.

Under 18? Technically you can’t buy smokes, but shops rarely respect the law. Violators are subject to imprisonment for up to one month or a fine of up to $35. But who’s watching?

The news of a crack-down have business owners and smokers doing a slow burn. Mazen Alsaleh, owner of 14 nd hookah cafes, told the Fresno Bee. “I am not defending smoking, but we must defend our investments.”

Smoking is an accepted sign of Arab manhood; women smoke to a lesser degree often choosing sheesha over cigarettes. Sheesha smoking is a social event, a substitute for Western bar culture and the practice dates back to the Ottoman Empire. And as for asking a smoker to not smoke? It contravenes the tenets of Arab hospitality.

(Related: Are they are such things as green e-cigs? whichecigarette.com makes the comparison.) 

Favorable economics enable smokers too. A pack of local cigarettes sells at $2, with local manufacturers slashing prices to compete with cheaper cigarettes smuggled in from Syria. Yet despite low cost, people in this developing nation burn the equivalent of $1 billion annually on tobacco.

Health Minister Ali Hyasat said the measure was meant to save lives, not businesses. “Our records show that many Jordanians die of cancer directly linked to smoking each year, and [we spend] more than $1 billion annually on health care programs to treat smokers,” Hyasat told The Associated Press. This health campaigns actually paved the way to a new device meant for “vaping” or vaporizing tobacco products. Those vaping devices now are becoming mainstream since several research suggests that it is a healthier alternative to smoking. A lot of companies are claiming they got the best portable vaporizers for their customers, and surely, this is a threat to a lot of tobacco companies who rely on their  traditional smoking products.

Idiocy abounds. “Why is the government infringing on our privacy?” asked social worker Haneen Ramahi. “Smoking is a matter of a personal choice. If I decide to kill myself, I’m free to do that.”

University student Mohammad Zeghayer said, “I will continue smoking in restaurants and coffee shops and police can arrest me, I don’t care.”

Meanwhile, smokers can be found lighting up in the offices of Jordan’s parliament, the same lawmakers who passed the ban in the first place.

Image of man blowing smoke from Shutterstock

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