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Syrian president bans public smoking

Associated Press / October 13, 2009

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DAMASCUS - Syria’s president yesterday issued a decree banning smoking in public places, joining an antismoking trend already underway in other Arab countries.

The ban also includes a rare restriction in the Arab world: limiting places where Syrians can indulge in the hookah - water pipes known locally as argileh.

President Bashar Assad’s decree, which will go into effect in six months, bans smoking in restaurants, cafes, cinemas, theaters, schools, official functions, and on public transport. Offenders will be fined the equivalent of $45.

Syria has taken steps before to try to restrict smoking, including a 1996 decree issued by Assad’s late father, Hafez, that banned smoking in government institutions and hospitals and at the airport.

But the ban was often flouted and not strictly enforced. The younger Assad recently issued a law that banned the sale of tobacco to those under the age of 18.

Yesterday’s decree is a much more sweeping measure, reflecting Syria’s desire to join other Arab countries struggling to control smoking with bans and antismoking campaigns.

Such laws are not easily enforced in the tobacco-loving Arab world, where people light up in offices, universities, taxis, and even hospitals and where smoking has long been a social imperative and a rite of passage for young men. Packs can cost as little as 50 cents.

The decree issued by Assad, a British-trained doctor, also bans the favorite Mideast pastime - smoking water pipes - except in well-ventilated and designated areas. Also outlawed are tobacco advertising and the sale and import of sweets and toys modeled after tobacco products.