Egypt Attempts to Curb Smoking in Public

Egypt's 76 million people smoke billions of Cigarettes a year one of the highest rates in the Middle East. Smoke-filled offices are the norm here along with ...

In a country where perhaps the most popular national past-time is puffing on a water pipe or chain smoking while drinking tea, new laws designed to curb smoking are receiving a skeptical response.
Egypt's 76 million people smoke billions of Cigarettes a year one of the highest rates in the Middle East. Smoke-filled offices are the norm here along with taxi drivers who light one cigarette after another while stuck in Cairo's treacherous traffic. Nonsmoking sections in restaurants are unheard of and water-pipe filled cafes often overflow onto sidewalks, leaving the sweet smell of fruit-flavoRed tobacco lingering on the streets.
But some doctors and lawmakers here want to change Egypt's smoking culture. The country's Parliament recently passed laws banning tobacco advertising and smoking in some public places including government buildings, schools and hospitals.
The law also calls for health warning labels to be put on cigarette packs and allows the government to increase the price of tobacco, according to Parliament member Hamdi el-Sayyed, who proposed the new laws. The national cigarette brand, Cleopatra, sells for about 50 cents a pack.
If individuals break the law, they could be fined up $17. Establishments could be forced to pay about $3,500, if they don't follow the law, said el-Sayyed, who also head's Egypt's Doctor's Syndicate.
Egypt's laws are modest and by no means trendsetting compaRed to other countries including Britain, Ireland, Italy and some U.S. cities where smoking in all indoor public places including most restaurants and cafes is banned. But they are start, especially for a country where 80 billion Cigarettes are smoked a year, el-Sayyed said.
"Part of the objective is to keep children and young people from becoming smoking addicts," he said.
But in a country where a massive government bureaucracy often keeps reform moving at snail's pace and bribing officials is common, there is much doubt that the laws will be enforced.
El-Sayyed said Egypt is trying to address the lack of enforcement by calling for the creation of a tobacco control agency and giving the Ministry of Health jurisdiction. He hopes the laws will be implemented by the end of the summer.
"We are determined to get this through. We are anxious to get this implemented," el-Sayyed said.
But skepticism over how Egypt a country burdened by poverty and high unemployment would be able to force people not to smoke remains high.
Soliman Mahmoud said he quit smoking 20 years ago but others have not followed his example.
"People here have been trying for a long time to get people not to smoke, but people here don't follow," said Mahmoud while standing on the corner of a congested downtown Cairo street.
Mustafa Ahmed, 25, said laws to curb smoking are a good idea in principle but are not realistic.
"Smoking is popular in Egypt. There is a lot of pressure on people here, especially because the economy is bad. People smoke because they think it will relax them," said Ahmed as he sat on a chair holding a cigarette outside the downtown travel agency where he works.
Sherif Omar, Parliament member and professor emeritus with Cairo University's National Cancer Institute, also has doubt over the new laws. He said education was the only way to get young people to put down the water pipe and Cigarettes, but anti-smoking education is not part of school curriculum here.
"Law by themselves do not work well unless you have education in schools and in the media," he said.


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