Anti-Smoking Banner Draws Beirut Restaurant’s Ire
By: Bassam Alkantar
Published Friday, January 18, 2013
Lebanon’s smoking ban in enclosed public areas has ignited a mini-war between the League of Independent Activists, known as IndyAct, and Beirut’s Inab Restaurant, which is across the street from the organization’s headquarters.
IndyAct members, who are strong advocates of the four-month-old ban, claim that the restaurant allows smoking (including argileh or water pipes) in an enclosed area.
According to the activists, the restaurant tells customers that it has a government license that permits smoking in the enclosed dining hall.
On Thursday, 17 January 2013, IndyAct members hoisted a giant banner across their building reading: “Inab Restaurant: If you care about your neighbors, abide by the smoking ban.”
The restaurant’s management reacted by sending a number of employees to IndyAct’s office, who then forced their way in and tore down the banner, according to the organization’s spokesperson Ali Fakhri.
The new smoking law imposes fines of hundreds of dollars on cafés and restaurants that allow smoking in enclosed areas. If the establishment repeats the offense, the maximum punishment involves a six-month prison sentence and further fines.
It is well known that since the law took effect in October 2012, many in the tourism sector – not to mention tobacco companies – have been pushing for an amended law. Confronting them are NGOs like IndyAct who have been working to expose violations of the law, particularly in restaurants and cafés.
Over the holidays, the number of violations increased markedly, particularly as those authorities tasked with enforcing the law took a step back.
A number of ministers, including Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Minister of Tourism Fady Abboud, have stepped up preparations to amend the law, perhaps relaxing restrictions on argileh smoking.
Ministers and MPs who support the ban have warned that local agents of international tobacco companies are prepared to spend large sums to protect their interests. Restaurant owners, who reap huge profits from argileh, are also interested in amending the law so as to permit water pipe smoking in enclosed public areas.
Such changes to the ban will certainly come at the cost of ordinary Lebanese citizens’ health.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.