Syria - smoking ban seems to be working this time..

May 18, 2010 - On Wednesday April 21, 2010 - Syria has become the first Arab state to implement a ban on smoking in public places, such as restaurants and cafes.

Fewer people are coming to the Al-Nawfara cafe, or they come but they don't linger, because they can no longer enjoy a water pipe while they listen, says Fady al-Rabat, 17, who is training to run the 300-year-old cafe. It has been in his family since his great-grandfather bought it. Al-Rabat expects the Al-Nawfara to survive the indoor smoking ban because it has tables spilling into the street, where smoking is still legal.

The new law makes it illegal to smoke at indoor cafes, restaurants, bars and other indoor public venues. It also strengthens enforcement and increases fines under previous, narrower smoking restrictions. For smoking at an indoor cafe, fines are stiff for this country, where per-capita income was $4,490 in 2008. A smoker can pay a fine equal to $44, and the cafe owner can be hit with a $550 fine.

According to the Syrian Society for Smoking Cessation, 60% of Syrian adult males and 30%-40% of females smoke in some form.

The new ban carries extra weight than previous laws because it came as a decree issued directly by President Bashar al-Assad, a physician.

Smoking has long been illegal on public transportation, but now drivers say they can no longer flout the law. Many still smoke cigarettes, but now they are careful to tuck them into the palms of their hands, hiding them from the view of police.

One driver, Ibrahim Hassoun, 26, says he works 12 hours a day and cannot afford to pull over for a smoke. "I can't smoke now in public," he says, "because I have to pay fees if someone from the government catches me smoking." Some cafe owners say enforcement of the law is inconsistent. At the Rawda Café in central Damascus, the owners were able to open enough windows in the indoor section for the government inspectors to consider it open-air.

Reference: Syria's smoking ban sends cafe clientele away in packs by Theodore May, Special for USA TODAY , USA Today, 5/16/2010.

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