Final phase of smoking ban introduced

Date: Friday, June 01, 2012
By: Daily Star 
Source: The Daily Star

BEIRUT: On the occasion of World No Tobacco Day, the Health Ministry launched a multimedia campaign Thursday to usher in the final phase of the law which, come September, will ban smoking in all public places.
The first phase of the law, which was passed by Parliament last August, is already in effect and banned smoking in all public places, except for the hospitality sector. It also banned the selling of tobacco to minors and required “No Smoking” signs in public buildings.
Phase two, introduced on March 3, banned the advertising and sponsorship of all tobacco products, logos and brands, and outlawed the production or importation of any product designed to look like cigarettes or smoking paraphernalia, such as sweets and candies aimed at children.
The final phase, which comes into effect Sept. 3, will also ban smoking at all restaurants, bars, clubs, cafes, theaters and hotels (save for 20 percent of rooms), to be accompanied by “No Smoking” signs at these venues also.
However, a bylaw dictating that 40 percent of each packet of cigarettes must bear a health warning has not yet been passed by Parliament, and, if approved, will not come into effect until a year after it is approved.
Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, speaking at a news conference to announce the launch, said “people’s minds might be elsewhere these days,” a reference to regional and domestic political turmoil, but pledged to follow through with implementation of the law.
Natalie Khazzouh, programs and communications officer at the ministry’s National Tobacco Control Program, said the main message of the new campaign is to combat the notion that the law will never be respected.
“Some people, when discussing the law, deny that it will ever be successfully implemented in Lebanon, but we are saying the reverse is true,” she said.
The law, once fully introduced, will represent “one of the most comprehensive tobacco control laws in the region,” Khazzouh said. “The terms are defined to make sure there is no confusion.”
However, she said, even though phase two was introduced in March, the advertising of tobacco logos is still ongoing at small grocery and dry goods stores, as well as other sites.
Before March 3, tobacco companies withdrew their explicit logos from shops, Khazzouh said, instead replacing them with images that were similar in style or color. However this practice of indirect, color-coding is still covered by the law.
“We were expecting things like this,” she added.
A statement from the National Tobacco Control Program said that “the tobacco industry has been subverting the law and using color codes while continuing their advertisement outdoors, in addition to spreading misinformation that indoor advertisement is allowed.”
But, Khazzouh added, “civil society organizations and everyone at the National Tobacco Control Program are monitoring this closely.”
Thursday’s launch was held in cooperation with the World Health Organization, which used this year’s World No Tobacco Day specifically to call on “national leaders to be extra vigilant against the increasingly aggressive attacks by the [tobacco] industry, which undermine policies that protect people from the harms of tobacco.”
“Tobacco kills almost 6 million people every year and is one of the leading preventable causes of illness and death around the world,” a statement from WHO added.
In Lebanon, which has one of the world’s highest levels of smokers, 46.8 percent of men and 31.6 percent of women are smokers.
The rate of young smokers has also increased over recent years. In 2001, 10.4 percent of boys and 5.3 percent of girls aged 13 to 15 smoked cigarettes, but by 2011 this increased to 17.7 and 6 percent, respectively.
Implementation of the law will be enforced by the Internal Security Forces, Health Ministry observers, inspectors from the Consumer Protection Offices at the Economy Ministry, and by tourist police. If venues or individuals are seen to be violating any aspect of the new law, people are encouraged to call the Health Ministry hotline at 1214.
Violators will face penalties dependent on the offense. For individuals found to have smoked in an enclosed space, the fine will be one-fifth of the monthly minimum wage, even for repeat offenders.
As for institutions, those guilty of handing out free samples of tobacco products will face a fine of two to six times the monthly minimum wage. Repeat offenders will then have to pay a fine of between 10 to 20 times the minimum wage, and possibly spend one to six months in prison.
Anyone found to have advertised a tobacco product will have to pay a fine of 20 to 60 times the minimum wage and a repeat offender could face up to 12 months in prison, with an additional fine.

Khalil was joined for the announcement by Beirut MP Atef Majdalani and Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud.

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