Lebanon’s Arguileh Militia

Soon after I blogged about how the Beiruti restaurant Enab, situated in Gemmayze, was violating the smoking ban despite stickers announcing the place as a non-smoking restaurant (link with pictures), IndyAct Lebanon decided to take matters in their own hands after a growing number of complaints regarding that particular restaurant were met unanswered by our tourism police.

As I said, it’s obvious there’s an under-the-table deal somewhere that benefits off our lungs. Anything for that extra money.

IndyAct decided to use their office space, which is ideally situated next to Enab, in order to set up a huge banner announcing to people who frequent Gemmayze that the restaurant nearby is violating the law and that it is not, in fact, a smoke free place as it advertises. The people of IndyAct were surprised to find their premises violated soon after by employees of Enab who took down the poster. Apparently they wanted to break the law in peace.

And it has all been documented on video:

Soon after the incident, IndyACT procured an official permit from the municipality of Beirut to set up the poster that Enab’s employees forcibly removed. Let’s hope those employees don’t break yet another law by removing the poster.

Enab Gemmayze Smoking Ban


It is said apathy is the weakest point in applying the law. It is our duty as Lebanese to make sure our law is enforced, people constantly said. But I have to ask: what’s the point?

When restaurants such as Enab break the law so flagrantly and have no problem breaking it even more to cover up the initial violation fully knowing they won’t face any repercussions whatsoever, what’s the point?

The more I call that magical 1735 number, the less cooperation I find from the tourism police whose job, paid for by my taxes, is to ensure such laws are enforced. The smoking ban is dead, despite some politicians wanting you to believe otherwise.

The amount of restaurants violating the law today is way too big to count. There isn’t a restaurant in Jbeil or Batroun or Tripoli – the places I spend most of my time in, apart from very few select places like Crepaway, which is actually observing the law. And they don’t even care about it. When you ask them about the smoking ban they reply: “that little thing? No, there isn’t such a thing over here. Do you want an arguileh, sir?”


The solution that I have found suits me best is to reward those few restaurants that are actually observing the law by frequenting them more often. On the other hand, I have decided that when I visit a restaurant that turns out to be violating the law, I will simply leave making sure they know all the smoke in the air is the reason for my departure. They want to make money off arguileh? Well, it won’t be my money they’ll be taking.

While our minister of tourism panics over the decreasing number of tourists visiting our beautiful country and sets up promotions to boost the sector, I have to wonder: how can you expect those people who come from much more organized countries to visit a place where even arguile has its own mini-militia?

I have said it before and I’ll say it again: I will personally never visit Enab, Jbeil’s Feniqia (link) or any restaurant that violates the ban for that matter again. I invite you to do the same.


Flawless Lebanese Anti-Non Smoking Logic

To say I’m excited about a smoking ban in Lebanon would be an understatement. I remember when I got the news via twitter while at a museum in Madrid last summer. I felt the need to share with anyone who’d listen, Lebanese or not.

What I didn’t think, however, was that one year later – as the ban is starting to come into effect – I’d actually see people vehemently against it, complaining about how the law is a violation of their rights, nagging about a state that can’t but feel powerful against those who are weak.

They don’t give us electricity, they don’t give us security, they don’t give us proper transportation, they don’t give us water, they don’t give us social security, they don’t provide decent healthcare…. What gives them the right to take smoking away from me?

That is literally what I heard yesterday by more than one Lebanese smokers. The sad part? A few non-smokers agreed with them as well. I’m fairly certain they are not the only ones. Some people are already proud about smoking in places covered by the ban. I literally just saw a few doing so.
And as I’m typing this, MTV is reporting that some restaurant owners have decided to close their places in protest on the smoking ban.

Yes, let’s complain about losing money if the ban goes into effect. Then let’s close down, lose the money and tell them all: ta-daaa!

And that is my friends impeccable Lebanese logic where A, despite it having absolutely nothing to do with B, somehow becomes perfectly correlated with it.

Why would anyone mix together the issues of electricity, the arms of Hezbollah, the Mekdad military wing, burning tires and people not admitted into hospitals with a smoking ban?

I, for one, have no idea. And as I tried to explain exactly how non-sequitur this sounded, the conversation volume was raised by more than a few notches. When you don’t make sense, start shouting. Oddly enough, this reminds me of more than a few Lebanese politician. It seems to be genetic.

And then you have those “panicking” about the sector losing 2600 jobs because smokers will somehow, in another piece of flawless logic, stop going out to eat and party and drink. Of course the syndicate of Lebanese restaurant owners doesn’t really care about people losing their jobs. It cares about its business decreasing because they can’t make easy money off selling overpriced shisha.

And when you try to tell people exactly how silly that sounds, they reply that non-smokers can go to non-smoking places. Which non-smoking places are they talking about? I have absolutely no idea whatsoever. In a country like Lebanon, no business dares to be solely no smoking. And those who do are in a different league of competition. Why? Because smokers will refuse to go there. But when all restaurants are non-smoking, either the entirety of Lebanon’s smokers will become isolationists who don’t venture out of their homes as the syndicate is suggesting or the syndicate of Lebanese restaurant owners is only worried about its bottom line losing one of its sources.
I’m sure it’s the latter. They want you to think it’s the former. And to that effect, they’ve made fancy infographics and whatnot.

What their logic is obviously lacking is simply looking at countries that have enforced smoking bans and noticing how their restaurant sectors didn’t suddenly go bankrupt and didn’t suffer. People get used to it. But they don’t want change. They love the status quo where your food is served mixed with cigarette ash.

No. One simply doesn’t take smoking from Lebanese smokers peacefully. One doesn’t simply start a law with the country having any other problem whatsoever. Today they nag about the electricity. If the electricity gets fixed, they’ll nag about Beirut lacking a subway system. When/if we end up getting a subway system, they’ll nag about our lack of nuclear energy. And the excuses will keep coming.

Simply put, some smokers and restaurant owners have one thing to say to you: f*ck you and your overly sensitive lungs.

Dear Lebanese Restaurant Owners “Affected” By The Smoking Ban

For years, you have been making money off my lungs.

For years, you have been forcing me to indirectly gulp down clouds of smoke with whatever I had ordered to eat at your premises.

For years, you made clear efforts at increasing your revenue by introducing various elements of smoking (shisha for instance) that doesn’t even work with most of your menus.

For years, your incessant need to make money in droves has driven your customers in droves to oncologists all over the country.

For years, we’ve put up with your crap. For years, we’ve taken it because we were those whom the law didn’t serve. For years, we suffered and you made money.

But this is unacceptable no more.

I invite you to check this study (click here) which clearly shows a benefit for non-smokers from smoking bans. You obviously don’t care about that because if you did, you wouldn’t have let the situation at your premises stay the way it has been for such a long time.

But that’s not the point. The point is that you want some places to be exempted from the law because it will have an economical effect on them. Clubs, with a smoking ban, would see their business decline apparently.

Would a smoker who likes clubbing suddenly decide not to go clubbing just because he is forbidden from smoking there? No. He would do as any other smoker would: take a mini-break from the dancing and drinking and go smoke a cigarette outside. With the other smokers. Away from my nose and lungs.

Would said smoker be furious at first? Sure, just as any over-indulgent five year old would be once you’ve taken their favorite toy from them. But once they get used to it, they will get over it.

I guess you don’t want that. In Lebanon, a smoker is always right and a non-smoker is always wrong. Things shouldn’t be easy for those who don’t want to smoke. Things should be kept easy for those who want to do so.

But this is not acceptable anymore.

When I was in Paris a few days ago, I was waiting for a table to clear at one of the city’s restaurants when I saw two women walk outside. The hostess asked them: Are you leaving?

They answered: No, we’re just going outside to smoke. And I smiled because that was the first time I had seen that simple act in my life. And I started wondering why can’t we have that in Lebanon as well?

The answer is so evident it doesn’t even need to be illustrated.

It’s high time that Lebanese society – even when it comes to the littlest things such as smoking – stop cutting corners for those who choose to adopt that luxury. And it starts with restaurants.

I invite you to read this little article that I wrote a while back about smoking in Lebanon. It stems from my limited, albeit existent, knowledge in psychology and psychiatry. If your restaurants keep smoking cues available everywhere, then even the harshest of laws cannot reduce smoking rates.

Will the Lebanese smoking ban go into full effect? I seriously doubt – as is the case with any other law in this country. There will be some decent places that will abide by it. Smokers will slowly get used to their favorite places, if any, abiding by the law. But what I can’t stand is a bunch of millionaire restaurant owners worrying about their bottom line.

It’s not their place to worry about the health of their customers, obviously. But I’d rather see a few shisha places out of the few million we have in each neighborhood in Beirut go broke than to see more oncologists hit the jackpot. A little harsh? Perhaps. But drastic measures need to be taken in a country where smoking has become a human right, not a “privilege” as it should be.

The only thing I’d change in the law? Make a cigarette pack $10 and watch the smokers cry.