x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Jordan to jail people smoking in public

In an attempt to make country smoke free, government plans to enforce recently amended laws to forbid the practice in public.

A sign in a mall in Amman warns people against smoking.
A sign in a mall in Amman warns people against smoking.

AMMAN // For more than 40 years, smokers in Jordan have flouted a law that bans the practice, but now the government has decided to get tough by enforcing a law that imposes fines and threatens prison sentences for those who break the rules. In a move to reduce the number of smokers in the country and lower the impact of second-hand smoke, the government plans to impose a US$21 to US$28 (Dh77 to Dh103) fine and a prison sentence of up to one month for those caught smoking in public. Recent amendments to the 1977 Public Health Law forbid smoking not only in cinemas, theatres, libraries, museums, on public transport, but also include hospitals, health care centres, schools, workplaces, airports, enclosed playgrounds and lecture halls. Next month, the ministry of health plans to launch a media campaign that seeks to raise public awareness about the law and the penalties. "Jordan is trying to become 100 per cent smoke free. Our priority is to safeguard the public heath and to protect citizens from passive smoking," said Hiba Ayub, head of the tobacco control department at the ministry of health. "We are hoping that once the law is enforced, it will encourage smokers to quit." Although the 1977 law was amended several times in the past decade, it is the first time that the articles on banning smoking in public were amended, in a clear sign the government is determined to enforce the law, hoping to encourage 29 per cent of the adult population who smoke to kick the habit. The kingdom has about 3,400 cancer cases a year, one-third of which are habitual smokers, doctors said. The King Hussein Cancer Centre estimates that 60 per cent of Jordanian children are passive smokers. A Global Youth Tobacco Survey found last year that 13.6 per cent of youths between the ages of 13 and 15 smoke cigarettes, while 22.7 per cent smoke argila (shisha). "The ministry will work on preventing smoking in a comprehensive manner based on a clear plan which will be presented to ? the malls owners and restaurants to review and to endorse by consent," Salah Mawajdeh, the minister of health, said last month during a meeting with mall owners and members of the Jordan Restaurant Association. Some restaurants have already started enforcing the ban. "We have started applying the law, even though before we only designated 20 per cent of the restaurant's area for smoking," said Michael Maayeh, the general manager of Houston's Restaurant. "Those who do not smoke like the idea, they are very receptive to that ? but when smokers show up and notice that they do not have any seating in the smoking section, they will resist and who knows how they are going to react." "We are very pleased with the law," said Basil Hammouri, the head of the marketing and public relations department at the Tawaheen Al Hawa tourist restaurant. But not everyone is happy with the new amendments. "I will stop going to the places where smoking is banned," said Issam Rustum, the owner of a biscuit factory in Amman. "But I will not stop smoking," he said. Mr Rustum smokes up to five packs a day. As part of its attempts to enforce the law, the ministry of health will withhold financial benefits from its employees who smoke. A recent survey showed 34 per cent of Jordanian doctors are smokers. Jordanians spend about $500 million a year on tobacco, and an equal amount is spent on medical treatment of complications arising from smoking. However, the bill is bound to face challenges. "The most difficult part is to change people's mentality pertaining to smoking, particularly passive smokers," Dr Ayub said. "Due to cultural norms, people are reluctant to ask smokers to put out their cigarettes, that would seem impolite. It takes time to change behaviour but we are working on it gradually." smaayeh@thenational.ae