The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, a country where smoking could be considered a national sport, is currently considering a Western inspired ban on smoking in public places. The ban covers the familiar locations such as restaurants, cafes, and was originally included in a 2008 law passed by the government. However, the law was not fully enforced due to cultural persistence. Old habits die hard. Jordan, one of the most stable countries in the Middle East, is famous for coffee and hookah. The pastime of smoking shisha, also known as nargile, or hubbly bubbly, has been a part of Jordanian culture from the time of the Ottoman Empire. In fact, smoking is such a huge part of the culture that it is considered to be a sign of manliness. The World Health Organization estimated last year that nearly half of the men in Jordan smoke tobacco on a daily basis. Jordan’s tobacco usage is also aided by the low-cost of cigarettes. A pack of local cigarettes sells for $2, while foreign tobacco is slightly more expensive. Last year, local tobacco manufacturers reduced prices by 15% to compete with cheap cigarettes smuggled from Syria. Jordanian Health Ministry statistics show that Jordanians spend $1 billion annually on tobacco.
If the government decides to take a stricter stance on the 2008 law, they could effectively revoke all the licenses of the 6,000 coffee shops that serve shisha by the end of the year. This would have a significant impact on the economy. However, Health Minister Ali Hyasat, who is leading the effort to enforce the smoking ban, said the measure was meant to “save lives, not businesses.” The law also prohibits selling tobacco to those under the age of 18, but shop owners have rarely abided by the law. Violators face imprisonment for up to one month or are forced to pay a fine of up to $35. Across the Middle East, there are similar indoor smoking bans in place in Lebanon and some Arab Gulf countries, but usually, such rules simply get ignored.
Why do you think the Western world adopted a ban on smoking before the Arab nations?
Do you think the Jordanian government will be able to enforce this law?
Do you still smoke?