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Battle against smoking should be won

Jan 28,2014 - Last updated at Jan 28,2014

Finally the Greater Amman Municipality (GAM) has decided to enforce the law that bans smoking in public places.

The lobby against the decision is fierce. Pressure is mounting on health authorities to rescind the action from a large community of coffee shop proprietors thriving on a hazardous industry.

Smoking in public places was banned in Jordan in 2008, but the law was not adequately enforced. People continued to smoke freely in restaurants and cafés, flagrantly violating the law. The authorities turned a blind eye.

Some improvement, however, was witnessed. People who used to smoke in hospitals, pharmacies, government offices and private businesses are fewer now than they used to be few years ago. But the practice did not disappear altogether, as it should have, due to the absence of supervision and lack of punitive action against violators.

It is hard to understand the wisdom of promulgating laws in the absence of any intention to enforce them. Unfortunately, this is a fact in our country.

There are laws that exist on paper but are not implemented in reality. Many such laws are directly related to public safety.

For the authorities to ignore their own laws is bad enough, but what is really much worse is that such negligence encourages the population to take the law for granted, ending up diminishing the effectiveness of the entire state. We are not far from that dangerous point.
What GAM is targeting at the moment is hubble bubble smoking. Narghile smoking places have been spreading wildly all over the capital and beyond, with young people, both male and female, growingly attracted to this highly unhealthy habit.

Contrary to the “comforting” belief that this kind of smoking is less harmful than cigarettes, the fact is that it is more dangerous. It emits more poisonous carbon monoxide than cigarettes.

The scented substitute used in the narghile, often tempting, is usually much worse than natural tobacco. Both are certainly bad.

GAM’s decision not to renew the licence of cafés where hubble bubble is smoked, which is right and wise, apart from the fact that it is a due enforcement of an existing law, should never be reconsidered, regardless of the pressure by the smoking lobby the measure may be faced with.

Should that happen, it would further drain the little left of the authorities’ credibility in the public eye. Actually this bold step should only be the start of a more aggressive anti-smoking campaign.

The law should ban smoking in all public places, but mainly in restaurants and cafés.

It is not sufficient to designate non-smoking areas in the same eating hall, as some restaurants do, because smoke travels to the nearby tables where clients will be forced to inhale it.

More protection should be afforded to non-smokers and accompanying children.

Justifications offered against the recent ban on smoking include a variety of absurd arguments. Some claim that the action would have negative effects on tourism. Some tourists may indeed be tempted to try the habit, but it is far fetched to believe that a tourist planning to visit Jordan would cancel his trip just for this insignificant reason.

In most countries people are more used to non-smoking than we are. Perhaps the surprise of many of the country’s visitors would be the indifference demonstrated in this country towards the dangers of the expansive space allowed for smoking.

Another argument against the ban is that the restaurant industry would be harmed as smoking clients who find it difficult to restrain themselves would opt to avoid frequenting these places altogether.

That also is inaccurate. Some may indeed avoid places where they cannot smoke temporarily, but the many others who stayed away from such places due to their intolerance of smoke would now come in.

The restaurant industry may therefore lose some of its regular customers, but would gain others.

We are not the first country to have to cope with such adjustment problems. In every country where smoking in public places was prohibited, similar complaints were made. But once the choice was between health and profit, there was no question that health would come first.

The experience of other countries that had to deal with similar issues proved that restaurants ended up having more customers than less.

A third argument is that the smoking ban may deprive a large portion of the population of exercising a natural right, therefore compromising its freedom for the sake of non-smokers.

Quite on the contrary, the problem here is that a smoker in a public place is the one who violates, quite dangerously, the rights of others by imposing his smoke upon them.

Why should a family with children be forced to either inhale poisonous smoke all night long if it decides to go out for a meal, or be deprived of going out just for the convenience of those who must smoke?

Some actually argued that those who cannot tolerate smoking should not go to places that allow it, which is totally unfair.

That smoking is a serious threat to health is a certain conclusion reached scientifically worldwide. Action against smoking varies in intensity from one country to the other, but the steadily accelerating trend is against smoking. One day we may live in a smoke-free world.

The concern is not confined just to the individual whose decision to take risks is part of one’s natural freedom; one can smoke in the privacy of his or her home. It is not as simple as that.

The problem has a much larger dimension. Countries that offer partial or total healthcare to their citizens face mounting costs for dealing with smoke-related diseases.

Jordan faces this exact problem because it offers free healthcare to a large number of the population. There is no question that less smoking would lead to less smoke-related diseases.

In some countries, insurance companies either refuse smoking customers or impose higher premiums on their health insurance contracts.

Expensive as it currently is, smoking places a huge strain on any family budget. It is both destroying health and burning money. Why should anyone burn money that can be used to improve the standard of living of the individual or the family if better spent?

Admittedly the move may have to struggle hard to impose anti-smoking policies. But it should remain firm and resist all counter pressures.

The two Chambers of our national assembly, the House and the Senate, have been constantly criticised, and rightly so, for allowing smoking in formal sessions.

Very recently, the Senate banned smoking. The House did not. In response, the House speaker once explained that fewer members attended regular sessions when a smoking ban was tried.

That always happens at the beginning, but the battle against smoking should not be lost.

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