Jordan Smokes


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?


Source: Jordan ParliamentWorld Health Organization



  1. I think that the Western world ban on smoking is not a realistic option. Banning smoking in public places is not one hundred percent efficient. Smoking might not be allowed in restaurants any more, but people still smoke outside. Smoking is an addiction and it is hard for many people to quit. If smoking is a major part of one’s culture, it will be even more difficult to enforce the ban. I do not think this law will be enforced because due to the customs of this country, the law will be opposed greatly. The Health Minister makes a good point when he argues that the ban is to protect the health of the people, but it has been known for years that smoking is bad for one’s health. Even though people are aware of the risks of smoking they still do it. I think that the law to prohibit the sale of tobacco to people under the age of 18 is futile. If the shop owners are not enforcing this prohibition, and they are not getting punished, then there is no point for them to follow it.

  2. I am not a smoker, but I do defend the ability for an adult to be able to choose if they do want to smoke or not. I believe the Western world adopted a ban on smoking indoors and such because I think there was more of a conscious health push in Western countries. I can’t say I know what Arab and Persian Gulf countries advertise and what issues they crusade against, but I do know here in the United States there are gruesome commercials about the health effects of smoking, more warnings and education on the dangers of smoking, and also in the U.S. (if my memory serves me correct) cigarette companies cannot even advertise their products on television or billboards anymore like the first half of the 20th century.
    However, the economic inconvenience for business could be over come with some adjustments such as sections of cafes to allow customers to smoke. Whether the government can enforce this law will be up to the amount of effort the government goes into cracking down on this law. Due to the long cultural history in Jordan with smoking, it might be a law for show.
    As a non-smoker I do appreciate these laws, but I implore a fair resolution for both groups.

  3. While I agree with the ultimate smoking ban in Jordan, I am surprised it occurred in a country where smoking is so culturally ingrained. Hookah is commonly associated with the Middle East and Middle Eastern lounges are established in other countries and involve smoking hookah. I would characterize the act of smoking hookah as distinguishable from smoking cigarettes. Additionally, cigarettes have more harmful toxins.

    I think the public response to this ban differs greatly from bans seen here in America. Americans see such bans as improving the health of the country. Jordan sees the ban as having an adverse effect on their economy and an effect on their culture. Because of this, I believe that the Jordanian government will have a hard time enforcing this law. However, it seems as if the build up to this ban has been a long and thoughtful process in which the government wants to see it through.

  4. I am not a smoker but, I disagree with the Jordanian ban on smoking. Smoking is akin to Americans eating hot dogs at a baseball game; it is a big part of the Jordanian culture. I concede that second hand smoke is hazardous to one’s health and may be offensive, but when something is a cultural staple, it should not be banned. Smoking the hookah specifically is an important cultural aspect for Jordanians. It is a way for people, although admittedly mostly men, to gather together around one hookah, usually with multiple mouthpieces, and partake in conversation, laugher, and camaraderie. The hookah is a symbol of unity.

    If the 2008 law is more strictly enforced, the government could revoke licenses of over 6,000 restaurants and cafes. This would be a devastating economic detriment to the owners of those establishments. It would also be a substantial social and cultural detriment to Jordanians. I agree with the Western ban on smoking in public places because it is not an important part of our culture. But, to prohibit people from smoking when it is so important to who they are as a society, it is inappropriate.

  5. I think a lot of these comments are narrowed by a northeastern US perspective. The truth of the matter is, smoking is NOT banned in public places in large portions of the US/Western world. I went to college in the south, Virginia to be specific, and most southern states do NOT have a ban on smoking indoors. They still abide by the smoking section/non-smoking section dichotomy. I believe this would be a good path for Jordan to take. It would increase health standards while still allowing restaurants to maintain their cultural identity.

    Don’t get me wrong, second hand smoke is a huge health problem and danger, and people should not be forced to be subjected to this horrible hazard when patroning restaurants, bars etc. However, the smoking/non-smoking section break up eliminates this problem, and results in a win/win for both sides. Of course, the two sections must be sufficiently separated so that second-hand smoke does not creep into the non-smoking section. Southern states achieve this solution through regulations that usually say the smoking section must be “enclosed and well ventilated.” See e.g. Ala. Code § 22-15A-6

    A lot of people in the northeast simply assume that smoking in public places is banned nationwide, however, it remains a state issue. Many states allow smoking in public places. So I don’t think it can be said that the “Western world [has] adopted a ban on smoking.” The northeast and many other states have, but down south its completely different. Jordan can adopt the southern US approach and then all sides can be placated.

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