First Published: 2010-04-26

 
'Hands-up!' You've been smoking in Syria
 

Some Syrians still struggling to come to terms with newly enforced ban on public smoking.

 

Middle East Online

By Sami Moubayed - DAMACUS

No more argeeleh

At the popular Rawda Cafe next to the Syrian Parliament, an elderly man walked in to sit at a corner he has reserved for himself, for nearly 40-years. Back then in 1970 he was 30, while the cafe itself was approximately 30-years old.

He took out a cigarette as he has customarily done for the last four decades, lite it to inhale strong tobacco, then to his complete amazement was approached by one of the waiters who politely said; “This section is now smoke-free Sir. You have to extinguish your cigarette. If you want to smoke you have to sit in the courtyard!”

Grumbling the man walked out with tail between his legs, speaking to himself and saying: “What is left of this life if one cannot smoke a cigarette anymore at any place he desires or has been used to for so long!”

It has been very amusing I must say, watching society prepare itself for the smoking ban that went into effect on April 21, 2010.

Hours before the ban was implimented, while seated at one of the coffee shops in Damascus, I said to a friend, “Say farewell to an era; the argeelah craze that took over Syria since the mid-1990s, is finally coming to an end!”

Back in 1996, only a handful of cafes tolerated Turkish pipe smoking in Syria. Ten years down the road, it was difficult to find a venue in Syria that does not provide Turkish pipes—not to forget the door-to-door service, known as “arageel delivery!”

The new law, passed six months ago by President Bashar al-Assad, says that any indoor café or restaurant with no open ceiling will not be able to serve Turkish pipes, or tolerate the smoking of cigarettes, pipes, and cigars.

That applies to all pubs, lounges, and the hundreds of cafes that have mushroomed all over the Syrian capital in recent years. No more cigar chomping at the Piano Bar in Old Damascus or at the lounges of the Sheraton Hotel and Four Seasons.

No more argeeleh & tea over a good game of cards at the Orient Club. No more smoking in the crowded corridors of state-buildings, or in any government-related territory.

Venues with a concrete ceiling that nevertheless has openings throughout it; can permit smoking provided that the percentage of the smoking zone is relative to the percentage of the openings in the ceiling.

Those penalized will pay up to 5,000 SP ($108 USD) per smoking violation, while venues owners breaking the law will pay up to 40,000 SP (870 USD) per penalty.

A special police will be charged with roaming the streets of Syrian cities to track down anybody breaking the law while a 4-digit “hotline” has been created, linking citizens to authorities so they can ‘report’ any law violator.

An official receipt for those who are caught smoking has already been published in official periodicals, and is posted on this blog. Repeated violations can lead to prison for ordinary Syrians and complete discharge from government service, for state employees.

It must be noted that several companies in the private sector have already started paving ground for the law, granting a salary increase or hefty bonus, to those who stop smoking at will.

In addition to government buildings, smoking has been banned in cars, buses, trains, aiports, schools, universities, prisons, cinemas, and all sports facilities.

Will the law really go into effect, and how serious will the “smoke police” be in implementing it?

Those who have seen the experience succeed in Europe are optimistic that the experience can easily be copied in Syria.

Although there is a lot of resentment from smokers—who claim that the new law infringes on their basic rights as citizens—many predict that this resistance will fade away in no more than 2-3 months.

Will the Syrians manage to give up their long-held and cherished smoking habits, where for as long as anybody can remember, they have gone to cafes for a strong cigarette—Hamra tawila (Syrian made cigarettes), imported Marlboros, or a good apple-flavored Turkish pipe, topped with a challenging game for backgammon?

A question, waiting for answers.

Sami Moubayed is editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine in Syria. This article appeared at the Magazine's blog.

 

Syria Kurds vow to cleanse enclave from Turkish 'scourges'

US withholds $65 million from UN agency for Palestinians

Saudi Arabia intercepts new Yemen rebel missile attack

Britain to put women at heart of peace work in Iraq, Nigeria, South Sudan

Bitcoin appeal beats ban and warnings in Jordan

Iran says Trump jeopardising Airbus deals

China says Iranian oil tanker wreck located

Sudan arrests communist leader after protests

Syrian opposition joins condemnation of US 'border force'

Israeli judge detains teen until trial for viral ‘slap video’

Arab league slams US freeze of Palestinian funding

Dubai billionaire to sell 15 percent Damac stake

Saudi to give Yemen government $2bn bailout

Israeli police find missing Briton’s belongings in desert

Algeria gas plant workers mark five years since jihadist siege

UN says over 5000 children killed or injured in Yemen war

European leaders’ response to Iran protests raises questions

Erdogan to visit Pope Francis next month

Iran slams US-backed 'border security force' in Syria

Palestinian suspension of Israel recognition unlikely for now

Jordan to hike fuel, bread prices

Yemen rebels free journalist detained since August

Palestinian reconciliation brings no change for Gazans

Sudan police use force, tear gas against protesters

Both hardliners and moderates have failed Iranians

Erdogan says Turkish military op in Syria's Afrin to be supported by rebels

UAE to lodge complaint over Qatar flight 'interception'

UN says 22 million Yemenis in need of aid

Minorities in north Iraq look to post-jihadist future

US-purchased cranes arrive at Yemen rebel-held port

Palestinian leaders call for suspension of recognition of Israel

Morocco dirham stable after flexible FX system introduction

10 killed in clashes at Tripoli airport

Sisi vows to protect Egypt's water supply

Palestinians meet to respond to Trump's 'slap of the century'

Hezbollah’s popular support jeopardises Lebanon’s alliances

European judicial opinion could deal fresh blow to Brussels-Rabat ties

Turkey plane plunged off runway due to ‘engine surge’

Iran oil tanker's sinking off China raises environmental fears

Protests held on Tunisia uprising anniversary

Double suicide bombing shakes in Baghdad

Iranian oil tanker sinks engulfed in flames

Will Abdullah Gul challenge Erdogan?

Hamas official wounded in car bomb attack in Lebanon

Iraqi PM Abadi announces candidacy for May elections