Minister of Public Health Dr. Jamil Jabak held a joint press conference with the World Health Organization (WHO), in which he announced a smoke-free Ministry of Health. Later, he talked about the steps that will be followed to start implementing the law 174 on smoking cessation. The conference was held in the presence of WHO representative in Lebanon Dr. Iman Shanqeeti, head of the national program of smoking cessation Fadi Sannan, and head of the department of primary health care Dr. Randa Hamade.
“The Ministry of Public Health being declared smoke-free is a project launched by the Ministry of Health as a first step that should be followed by subsequent steps to make all ministries in Lebanon smoke-free. There should be an effort to implement Law 174, which has not yet been implemented,” Minister Jabak said. He intends to implement it nationwide in a few basic steps as follows:
Step 1 involves taking all possible measures to prevent smoking in closed spaces. Monitors of the Ministry of Health will tour restaurants and cafes to ensure enforcement of the law.
Penalization of violations, which also includes allowing minors under 18 to smoke a water pipe (Arguileh / Shisha), will start with a harsh fine on first-time violations, followed by the closure of the institution if the violation is repeated.
Minister Jabak explained, continued, “It is our duty to protect our country and our society because smoking is a disease and causes many diseases.” He stressed that “such parents [who allow their children to smoke] deserve to go to prison because they do not do their duty towards their children and the society.”
Regarding the guarantee of the implementation of the smoking cessation law after many years of failure, Minister Jabak said that some municipalities are already at work in that regard, and have already started monitoring their cafes and restaurants.
“The Ministry of Public Health is coordinating with the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities, and a number of municipalities have begun to raid some cafes and restaurants that do not abide by the law.” Minister Jabak explained. “The municipalities of Lebanon are a key partner in the matter, with the aim of participating with the Ministry of Health in the monitoring process.”
He reiterated his promise that there would be no leniency in the application of the law and the penalties.”The institution will be closed when the violation is repeated in order to preserve the health of citizens,” he declared firmly.
From her side, Dr. Iman Shanqeeti expressed her happiness to participate in the Minister of Health’s declaration that the building of the Ministry of Public Health is smoke-free. “This announcement is a source of pride and Lebanon, through the initiative of Minister Jabak today, confirms its leading role in the field of public health,” she said.
Dr. Iman went on presenting some global smoking data, “Each year, tobacco use kills about six million people, including more than five million who are using it or have already used it, and more than 600,000 non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke. Tobacco kills one person every four seconds (…). 38% of adults are smokers (47.6% males and 29% females). If things continue to be the same, it is estimated that smoking prevalence in Lebanon will increase in the coming years,” she continued.
She pointed out that”about 40% of Lebanese public and private school students aged 13-15 years smoke cigarettes and 38% smoke Arguileh. About 70% of students in public and private schools aged 13-15 years are exposed to cigarette smoke (secondhand smoke) in their homes and in public places, and about 50% are exposed to Arguileh smoke in the same places.”
Praising the tax increase on cigarette packs, she wished the Minister of Health “not only increases the taxes on imported cigarettes but also on domestic production,” pointing to “a note by the World Health Organization that the demand for imported cigarettes is declining in Lebanon, in comparison with the demand of local production.”
As for the head of the national program of smoking cessation, Fadi Sannan, he stressed on the importance of what Minister Jabak is doing in terms of the implementation of Law 174, which hasn’t been implemented since the bill passed in 2011.
He expressed his wish that “the state and the cabinet, especially the ministers concerned, will stand by him in raising taxes on cigarettes and turning textual warnings on tobacco packets into pictorial warnings.”
He also praised the signing of the Protocol on Cessation of Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products which has been signed by the Minister of Public Health and still requires approval from the Council of Ministers.