Postcard from... Beirut


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The Independent Online

In a country struggling to avoid the spillover from a civil war next door, where infrastructure is allowed to crumble, where corruption is rampant and where roads blocked by burning tyres are a regular sight, many have questioned the timing of a ban on smoking indoors.

It is a question of priorities; deal with the big things first before you come after us, they say. Of course, most of those people are smokers – but they have their supporters.

Café and bar owners complain that it will hurt their businesses, and they are probably right. Libertarians say it is an intrusion.

Walking through the bar-filled Gemmayzeh area of Beirut on the first night of the ban, I felt a flicker of sympathy for the hundreds of nicotine addicts on to the pavements. Their faces resembled those of scared animals, newly introduced into the wild after years in captivity.

But the sheer numbers in their herd should have given them cause for concern.

Lebanon is commonly referred to as a "smoker's paradise". And for good reason. More than 45 per cent of men and 30 per cent of women are estimated to be regular smokers, according to the World Health Organisation – the highest proportion in the Middle East. One would hope that if the ban goes any way to reducing the number of smokers in Lebanon, the questions of liberty and priority will fade away.

For some, the potential for a healthier country is not the only benefit.

As one regular club patron said: "I enter the club smelling like shampoo, I leave the club smelling like shampoo. Smoking ban, you're like a dream come true."