Lebanon - concerned citizens trying to introduce tobacco controls..

October 30, 2009 - A 2008 World Health Organization (WHO) report found that Lebanon was the biggest consumer of tobacco in the eastern Mediterranean region after Tunisia and Jordan. A survey carried out by the UN agency in 2005 found 60 percent of Lebanese aged between 13 and 15 smoke cigarettes, narghileh (hookah, water pipe, sheesha, shisha) pipes or cigars. Overall, an estimated 42 percent of males and 30 percent of females smoke in Lebanon, a country of 4.5 million inhabitants, health experts say. (Lebanon - a smokers paradise..)

Some 75 percent of children are subject to second-hand smoke exposure, increasing their chances of suffering from asthma, chronic bronchitis, eye and ear infections, potentially fatal lung and respiratory illnesses, and cot death.

There are now smoking bans in place in over 70 countries across the world, but in Lebanon, where smokers seem to vastly outnumber nonsmokers, there have been no such efforts to curb tobacco use. In fact, Lebanon seems to be something of a smoker’s safe haven. Gemmayzeh, arguably Beirut’s most popular bar and restaurant district, on Wednesday, October 28th will host its second smoke-free night this year in a bid to raise awareness on the dangers of tobacco.

Following the success of a no-smoking night in February, volunteers from the Beirut Metropolitan and Sahel Metn Rotaract Clubs decided to organize another to urge Lebanese authorities to encourage tobacco-free habits across the country. “We’re looking for sustainability in this campaign,” said Saiid Saber, a Rotaract volunteer.

“Our objective is to have regular smoke-free nights in all areas and in the long-term, to present a draft law to Parliament which restricts smoking in public places.” The clubs have also drawn up an online petition urging Lebanon to ban smoking in public places.

Saber said that although Beirut is a signatory to the WHO's 2005 Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, it has failed to ratify the document and has done little to enforce it. (This is NOT true. In December 2005 Lebanon ratified the WHO's Organization’s Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (FCTC) with little fanfare by the government and no coverage by the local media, and so far it seems that the tobacco industry is behaving just as it did before. FCTC..

“Here things have been done in slow motion,” he said, noting that cigarette taxes have barely increased, health warning labels have not been added to packets, and the lack of enforcement of smoking bans in government buildings or hospitals.

With minimal regulation, no enforcement on the minimum age for smokers and lucrative sponsorship deals, the tobacco industry has found fertile ground in Lebanon. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Lebanon’s tobacco lobby spends “millions per year on advertising,” often designed to appeal to the young and image-conscious.

“It’s an easy, enabling environment” for smokers, complained Dr. Rima Nakkash, Assistant Professor of Research at the Center for Research on Population and Health at the American University of Beirut. But anti-smoking campaigns do see light at the end of the tunnel: smoking bans are gaining momentum in the Middle East, having recently been partially or totally enforced in Bahrain, Syria, Israel, Iraq, Qatar, Turkey and the UAE (United Arab Emirates).

In addition, the Rotaract campaign has grown. Some 36 establishments – 10 more than last year – have agreed to participate, sticking up “Ain’t no smoking tonight” posters designed by Internet cartoonist Maya Zankoul on their doors.

Nakkash said more and sustained awareness campaigns would help educate the Lebanese about their rights to clean air. But above all, she said, the Lebanese government needs to implement and enforce laws restricting tobacco use. Countries where comprehensive national strategies on tobacco use and advertising have been enforced have seen incidences of cancer and smoking plummet.

Lebanon's public health issues and services..

References: Beirut's smoke-free night draws widespread public support by Omar Katerji, Special to The Lebanon Daily Star, 10/30/2009; Gemmayzeh to go smoke-free for one night by Dalila Mahdawi, Lebanon Daily Star staff, 10/28/2009; Lebanon 'must move' to ban smoking Health experts push for law against lighting up in public places to save lives by Dalila Mahdawi, Lebanon Daily News, 10/29/2009.



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