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Lebanon's inability to apply the rules a real smoking gun

By any standards it was an insignificant event. A woman, out with friends at a Beirut entertainment spot, gets thrown out for complaining that other patrons were violating Law 174 that prohibits smoking in public places.

Lebanon's social media is aflutter with criticism of owners and customers who have ignored the smoking ban. Anwar Amro / AFP
Lebanon's social media is aflutter with criticism of owners and customers who have ignored the smoking ban. Anwar Amro / AFP

By any standards it was an insignificant event. A woman, out with friends at a Beirut entertainment spot, sees other patrons violating Law 174 that prohibits smoking in public places. She complains to the manager and is verbally abused and thrown out for her trouble.

That might have been the end of it, but in this new brave social media world, one must be careful. In this case the woman, Dalal Mawad was a blogger and "multimedia journalist". She wrote about the incident; Facebook was abuzz and the local press, albeit briefly, picked up on it.

Lebanon is divided over the wisdom of the law. While many see Ms Mawad as a Lebanese Rosa Parks, others feel she is a busybody who deserved everything she got.

"You are in Lebanon, law gets applied on nice people and doesn't get applied on nasty ones … you wanna protect the law go report drug dealing in [the] Dahye or weapon traffic in Baalbeck or whatever big crime being committed somewhere. Don't be a party pooper and pick on a couple of civilised people who light a cigarette indoor on a cold night" was just one of the comments left on her website by one man, clearly unable to curb his liberal instincts.

Law 174 has underscored our chronic inability to enforce rules.

In the true Lebanese spirit of compromise, there is already a comfortable truce that allows restaurants and bars to let customers smoke in conservatory style areas. It is a grey area that no one wants to challenge but it has once again chipped away at whatever integrity we have left.

In the short term at least, the state is not going to pull its weight so - and please bear with me for a second - surely now is the time for the private sector to set an example in a society in which the government has all but lost its mojo.

Local businesses already dictate the country's economic heartbeat so why not use their clout to make sure their business partners demonstrate best practice? Call it governance; call it corporate social responsibility, call it what you want, but Law 174 must take hold for the sake of future regulation. There can be no more damning indictment of a nation than the absence of law and order.

From awareness creation to reducing the nation's health bill (after all, the government announced on Monday that it could no longer afford to offer free health care to those unable to pay for it) creating a genuine investment environment, the private sector can play a role.

Food and beverage suppliers can refuse to supply goods and services to those establishments that refuse to abide by the law, while banks can offer similar incentives.

There has already been widespread condemnation in the social media of owners and public figures who ignored the smoking ban; now the "name and shame" campaign needs teeth to make it bite.

Workers also need to be made aware of the fact that most anti-smoking laws are enacted primarily to protect them and ensure they work in a healthy environment.

It is an element of the debate that needs to be reinforced. Again this is something that the private sector, especially those in the service industry, can highlight.

Around the same time that Ms Mawad was venting her spleen about protecting her lungs, the local media reported a spate of needless traffic accidents over two days that claimed at least five lives, including a young woman of 21, a jogger and a soldier on traffic duty.

Lebanon's car sellers enjoy an exclusive dealership monopoly. They should do more to contribute to a proper national road safety campaign.

The government is never going to do it, but there are excellent non-governmental organisations, such as Kun Hade and Yasa, that would no doubt welcome the chance to generate wider exposure.

For their part the dealers would burnish their corporate credentials and set an example of good governance and social responsibility.

It's just a thought.

 

Michael Karam is a Beirut-based freelance writer