Smoking in Lebanon: World’s 2nd Highest Increase in Smoking Since 1990

Perhaps this study published by the economist could be a wake up call to those who say there’s no need for regulations pertaining to the smoking situation in Lebanon.

We have the world’s second highest increase in smoking between 1990 and 2012. So while almost everywhere else was busy enforcing laws to improve the health of its people, especially when it comes to smoking rates, we’ve been sitting around doing nothing and watching.

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The healthcare situation in Lebanon is deplorable at best. We have no efficient primary health care in the country, a branch of medicine whose goal includes the prevention of such drastic increases.
The only form of law we have pertaining to smoking is the smoking ban which almost no one is abiding with these days, not that our security officers care. After all, there are worse things happening in the country, or so the argument goes.

Cigarette prices are still a dismal maximum of $2 per pack because God forbid we tax it and the mentality towards smoking hasn’t changed despite the timid efforts to tackle it.
As an example, I was asked by a patient while rotating at a Lebanese hospital, an IV in her arm with a hospital gown and all, if she can smoke indoors. I guess she wasn’t too pleased ordered her outside.

What hope for improvement can we have when there are physicians with absolutely no problem in chain-smoking while wearing the same white coat they will use to see patients a few minutes later?
What improvement can we seek when medical students, the people who should be advocating for this, smoke more than your average Lebanese despite every single medical literature telling them smoking isn’t good for them – beyond the typical picture of a smoker’s lung?

There are way too many interventions that this country needs. It’s time smoking goes up on the list of priorities as we slowly let the people of our country kill themselves and the people around them away.

But I guess who cares with the political deadlock we have, the elections we won’t be having and the parliament we will be having around for a year or so more.

Lawless Mayhem on Bliss Street

Just when you thought some aspects of our life as Lebanese couldn’t get more hectic, Beirut comes again to surprise you.

Triple parking? We got it. Further breaches of the smoking ban? Yes, we have that too.

A friend of mine recently sent me the following pictures that she took over at Bliss Street, next to AUB:

Al Kahwa - Indoor Smoking Al Kahwa Indoor Smoking

 

Bliss Street triple parking Beirut Bliss Street - Triple Parking

She was harassed by the valet parking people for taking picture of their triple parking on the street, effectively limiting the road to only one lane which is not nearly enough for the cars that cross on that busy path.

To make things even more interesting, the valet parking worked for a restaurant called “Al Kahwa” which was also blatantly breaching the non-smoking law with hookahs and cigarettes being present everywhere.

They tried to contact the tourism police number for both violations but they found no answer in the several times they attempted to call.

My question is the following: how is it acceptable that a valet parking service would effectively block an entire street and not have anyone with a badge or some form of authority tell them off? And how is it possible that our restaurants keep breaching the smoking ban without caring the least about someone to tell them off?

Maybe it’s time to say, “khlosna ba2a?”

Welcome To The Republic of Cheap Controversy

We, as Lebanese, sure know how to breed controversies. We love it. We adore it. We feed our need for gossip off of it. And it happens so often without it becoming redundant.

We have a need for it.

The latest:

Yes, you guessed it: Mashrou3 Leila’s decision not to open for RHCP.

The discussion regarding Mashrou3 Leila nuclear bombing themselves by giving up their opening gig for the RHCP took a turn that I didn’t foresee. It became less and less about how they got to their decision and more about whether their decision was correct or not.

Of course, the debate isn’t about supporting the Palestinians or not. It’s not about hating Israel or not.

Were they bullied? Or did they reach their decision out of conviction? And it is here that I believe is the issue’s main question.

Mashrou3 Leila signed to be the RHCP’s opening act a long time ago. They knew RHCP had a concert in Israel and yet they still signed the contract. To say they didn’t know about the Israeli concert would infer they are massively ignorant, which they are not. So for all matters and purposes, they didn’t care about the next stops on RHCP’s tour.

And they canceled their gig. Were they bullied into it? Well, speaking from experience, the anti-Israel crowd have a knack for making anyone who doesn’t play for them feel as if he’s an accomplice to killing all the Palestinian children.

You’re not with us? Then you’re a traitor and I hope you can sleep at night knowing the blood of Palestinians is on your hands and knowing that you are also stealing their land. 

It is the same Bush-era logic that they love to hate: you are either with us or against us. You can’t be in between.

Select Lebanese bloggers know how it is when you don’t write in agreement with them. They will bash you. They will threaten you. They will call you names. They will make you feel as if you’ve done something wrong which you perfectly know you didn’t. And if you’re tough enough, you won’t budge.

Mashrou3 Leila budged. And the ripple that they caused was deafening. For instance, BeirutSpring, a renowned Lebanese blogger who doesn’t address all issues that happen in Lebanon and when he does, he addresses the issue with one short and straight to the point post, wrote not once (click here) but twice (click here) about Leila. That second post has a ton of comments, some of which are proclaiming exactly what I alluded to before. Treason and then treason and then treason some more.

The BDS people should be proud. Commenting from their awesome new Macbook.

Another controversy:

We might also be the only country in the world where enforcing a smoking ban is met with a wave of anger and disgrace and people throwing around brilliant logic to justify opposing the ban. You want a taste of that logic? Click here.

Has any other country in the world caused so much controversy by simply applying a law straight out of the 1980s in 2012? Definitely not.

But in Lebanon it did. A smoking ban became an issue of national debate even though it shouldn’t. Smoking somehow morphed into a basic human right, which it isn’t. Some restaurants are even opting not to follow the law – and they’re proud of it (click here).

Some people have said: “the smoking ban supporters preach. The restaurant owners speak facts. The former need to rest their case – they’re not making sense.” Our need for controversy transcends our ability for logical reasoning. So we go with the flow of beautiful rhetoric that pleases our brain cortices and tickles our enthusiasm. Scientific studies? The hell with that. For reference, this is a British case study that shows a positive economic impact for smoking bans (click here).

Previous controversies:

The Lebanese Olympic squad and its Israel-related incident may or may not have happened. But it sure has caused a frenzy. I even asked this simple question: wouldn’t it be a greater victory if we play and win? Wouldn’t it be greater if we debate them and put them where they belong?

All hell broke loose. Because expressing your opinion is frowned upon – unless your opinion is mainstream. Getting called a traitor? It’s become my favorite pastime lately.

The Republic of Cheap Controversy:

When you realize that two of those controversies happened within a week and the third one happened within a month of the other two, you get three national “debates” that have led nowhere except have people go at each other’s throats in such a short timeframe. That’s also without taking into consideration Michel Samaha, the Mekdads or Myriam Klink or anything else that happened in the past couple of months. The republic of cheap controversy unfolds in front of you.

It’s not a republic of shame as LBC wants you to believe. It’s not the republic of anarchy as I’ve told you before (here). It’s another face of Lebanon, one that we don’t notice because it has become so deeply engrained in the fabrics of our society that we don’t notice it anymore – we don’t even notice how often we do it.

Our controversies address deep issues sometimes but more often than not they simply scrap the surface of far deeper problems without diving in. We live off of that – discussions that give us something to talk about while steering clear from more “pressing” issues (the election law comes to mind). Sometimes the discussion is cheap and shallow. Other times, the “discussion” takes a dangerous turn when the allegiance of others and their moral values come into play.

And people are interested in reading and talking about it because it gives them a sense of participating. And we write about it because it makes us feel important – that we are heard and some people want to know what we have to say. I’ve done it. You’ve done it. We’ve all done it.

When will the next controversy take place? I would say it’s a 50-50 chance for next week. Do we love it? Maybe not. Welcome to the Republic of Cheap Controversy.

 

Lebanese Restaurants Not Following The Smoking Ban: Feniqia, Jbeil

I was taking my Australian cousins out to dinner today and I decided to have them try out Feniqia in Jbeil. One of my cousins, who has been visiting Lebanon more or less frequently lately, complained about the place having too much shisha and smoke. So I gleefully told her about the smoking ban and how a decent place like Feniqia was surely abiding by it.

As we neared the place, we saw a man smoking a shisha. But we was immediately next to a window so I thought that maybe that was their policy – you get to smoke if you’re close to an open window as long as you blow your fumes outside.

Then, as we had our dinner, a couple sat next to us. The guy held out his pack of Marlboro and lit a cigarette. So I told him that it’s forbidden to smoke here. He replied: really? So I told him: Yes, haven’t you heard of the new law?

He said that he was aware of the law but that he saw many people smoking shisha. So he called the restaurant manager to make sure. The manager came over and I asked him: isn’t your place abiding by the non-smoking law?

His reply? Of course and without a doubt not.

He said so with pride and left. The guy’s date ordered her shisha and she started smoking as well. So I decided to try and call the number to which you can report such incidences. After much searching, someone on twitter let me know that the number you need to call to report restaurants not abiding by the smoking law is 1214 – the hotline of the ministry of health.

I called that number 3 times. It got disconnected almost immediately. They must be sleeping – such a hot hotline, right?

As for Feniqia, I don’t expect it to follow the law anytime soon. Not even when winter rolls around and it can’t leave its windows open for aeration. And being a regular, I haven’t seen them undergo modifications of the place to bring it up to par with the regulations. And for proof’s sake, here are a few pictures.

Update:

The numbers that you need to call to report restaurants are either 112 or 1735. Call the numbers when you’re at the restaurant not the following day.

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.

The Smoking Situation in Lebanon: Blame The System, Not The Smoker

I always wondered why so many Lebanese smoke. We’ve all been through an educational system with more than one picture of a smoking-ruined lung in our biology textbook. We’ve all been through more than one lecture about the bad effects of smoking. We’ve all been through a phase where we were afraid of what our parents, some of whom smoke, would think of us if we do.

Despite all of that, many people ended up as smokers.

I am not talking here about our parents’ generation. They are the war generation to whom smoking might have been a way to cope with the stress of everyday life. But to our generation, one which is supposedly more aware than previous ones, the rates of smokers is just too high. You only need to go out with a group of people your age to notice this. My medical school class has 68 students. At least half of those are smokers. Less than half of them actually admit it when asked.

Fact. Nicotine is the most addictive substance known to man. No, not heroin. Not cocaine. Yes, nicotine. So when a smoker tells you they are not “addicted” to smoking, they are simply delusional.

Fact. Talking about lack of willpower when it comes to stopping smoking is nonsensical. Smokers have willpower the same as everybody else. It takes them way more effort, however, to be able to stop. Them not being able to stop smoking doesn’t mean they don’t have the will for it.

Fact. The more smokers you have in a given community, the higher the chance for non-smokers to fall into the habit: Peer pressure, imitation, call it whatever you want.

Fact. The easier it is to have access to cigarettes, the easier it’ll be for a non-smoker to become a smoker.

Let’s examine the situation in Lebanon. A regular shop in any given neighborhood has a stand for cigarettes displayed next to the cashier. That stand has a sticker that says cigarette packs are never sold to those less than eighteen years of age. This sticker is a formality. A fifteen year old enters said shop. This fifteen year old has an allowance of about $20 per week. Of those $20, he finds it very easy to dispose of $2 for a pack of cigarettes. This teenager goes back home and hides his pack. Later that evening, he meets up with a couple of his friends and they smoke it. The following day or week, another one of them volunteers $2 to “try” smoking until it’s no longer trying and their bodies develop a need for nicotine.

A study conducted by Jad Chaaban, Nadia Naamani and Nisreen Salti at the American University of Beirut (AUB) has found that 40.3% of people in Lebanon smoke, at a rate of 12.4 packs per month. This consumption is among the highest in the world, three times higher than Syria. To make things even “worse,” the balance for tobacco revenue and costs has our economy losing more than $55.4 million a year.

Last August, a non-smoking law was voted and its implementation was theoretically supposed to be gradually carried out. The reality, as with most Lebanese laws, is drastically different from theory. Some places, such as ABC mall, have borderline conformed to the ban. The absolute majority, however, has not. So when a smoker goes to almost any place in Lebanon, they will be inundated with cues for them to smoke, which have been proven psychologically to be the greatest trigger for smoking behavior. Those cues trigger the need in the body for nicotine. Example: a cigarette between classes, with coffee, with a drink, etc…

A few years ago, AUB banned smoking on its campus except for few select areas. This has caused many smokers to decrease their consumption. They simply didn’t have time to smoke between classes, on their breaks, on their tight schedules. What AUB did was to considerably suppress the aforementioned cues.

For the current smokers in Lebanon, it may be too late. Some have gone cold-turkey and failed. Others have succeeded. But it remains true that quitting smoking is one the most difficult things to do for smokers.

For the non-smokers, the story is much different and it is there that we must work to lessen smoking in our society. How? By making it drastically more difficult for these youngsters to access cigarettes. You know shops will not conform to the 18-year old limit. If a 15 year old doesn’t get his fix from this place, he’ll go to the next and the next until a pack is sold to him.

The first thing would be to put the cigarette stand in a place where it’s not very evident and easy for anyone to pick up a pack on a whim and make cigarette boxes a standard form: no special fonts and colors for a specific brand. Make them all the same, along with a pictorial warning covering most of the box about the dangers of smoking.

The second thing to do would be to drastically increase the price of cigarette packs. I don’t know why this is not a conceivable approach in a country where gas prices are half consisted of taxes. Meanwhile, cigarette packs have barely any taxes on them. Why not decrease the taxes on gas and increase them on cigarettes? Gas is a lively need for all of the Lebanese population. Cigarette is not. Gas should not be a privilege as it’s slowly becoming. Cigarettes should become a privilege. They currently are not.

Higher prices (say $8 a pack) and a decrease in the “cue” to buy a pack would lead to a drastic decrease in the up and coming generations to have high number of smokers. A higher price would also reflect on current smokers with a decrease in consumption. This leads to an easier implementation of smoking ban at various restaurants, pubs, public venues, etc.

When it comes to smoking in Lebanon, we tend to victimize the smoker for doing something “wrong.” Some smokers rationalize their behavior by saying that “everyone does it.” The “everyone does it” argument is faulty. Just because the majority does something doesn’t make it a good thing: just because the majority of the people in Beirut were exposed to violence in the 1980s does not make it a healthy experience. The fact remains that smoking is bad for smokers and for non-smokers. I, for one, cannot stand the smell. I am near repulsed by seeing the smoke going out of almost every bodily opening the smoker has. But it remains that it’s not a smoker’s fault as it is the system that has made it way too easy. So instead of dreaming big, like we always do in Lebanon, with a comprehensive smoking ban that reaches all the corners of the country, how about we start with baby steps for once and actually get somewhere?