Lebanon: Minister’s Tobacco Ties Stall Smoking Law

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Former director of the national program to reduce smoking, George Saade, confirmed that during the discussion of the draft law in the Lebanese parliament, everyone agreed that health warnings on cigarette packets should be clear and explicit. (Photo: Marwan Tahtah)

By: Bassam Alkantar

Published Saturday, September 28, 2013

“Smoking Kills,” but the Lebanese will not be able to read this warning on cigarette packets since the Finance Ministry has postponed the implementation of an importation provision of Law 174.

Law 174 limits smoking and regulates the manufacture, packaging, and advertising of tobacco products. Article 8 of this law stipulates that mandatory text warnings in Arabic be placed on cigarette packages describing the harmful health effects of smoking and covering 40 percent of the cigarette pack. The provisions of this article were set to take effect a year after the decree was issued.

The law also includes the possibility of further adopting warning images on cigarette packets based on the proposals of the ministers of health and finance, Ali Hassan Khalil and Mohammed al-Safadi.

Yet the behavior of both ministers suggests that the warning images have been ruled out at this point in response to the “esteemed” wishes of the tobacco companies.

The tobacco warning messages could include statements such as “Smoking Kills” and “Smoking leads to dangerous and fatal diseases.” Further secondary warnings will list health risks like, “Second-hand smoking harms others, causes skin aging and smokers die at an early age.”

As the October 4 due date for enforcing the text warning approaches, Safadi issued a decision that violates the text of the decree. An official letter numbered 9444 and dated 8 March 2013 leads one to infer that Safadi had talked to the Regie Libanaise des Tabacs et Tombacs and approved not only postponing warning labels on cigarette packets until 9 March 2014, but also allowing the warning label to cover 40 percent of the side of the packet, not its front.

Safadi based his decision on a draft amendment of the law after a “material error” was discovered in Decree 8991.

Yet Decree 8991 went through four reviews by the State Council, the highest administrative jurisdiction in the country. What is this material mistake? And why wasn’t it noticed sooner?

Former director of the national program to reduce smoking, George Saade, confirmed that during the discussion of the draft law in the Lebanese parliament, everyone agreed that health warnings on cigarette packets should be clear and explicit. The law used legal European texts and took into account the provisions of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) and considered legally binding for Lebanon as the country ratified all its terms without any reservations.

Saade wondered about the motives behind accepting tobacco company claims about a material error. Even if there is some kind of ambiguity in the text of the decree, the basis is the law itself, and Article 8 in particular is clear and bears no ambiguity or multiple interpretations.

Saade, who is currently active in the Lebanese Association for Consumer Protection, pointed to the possibility of appealing Safadi’s decision before the State Council for violating Law 174.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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