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A smoking ban in all closed public spaces, including coffee shops, restaurants and bars, went into force in Lebanon on Monday under new legislation that promises hefty fines for lawbreakers.

Endorsed by Lebanon’s parliament last year, the law also bans tobacco advertisements, which have been criticized for luring young people into smoking.

Smokers caught lighting up in a closed public space face a $90 penalty, while restaurant or cafe owners who turn a blind eye to offenders could be fined anything from $900 to $2,700.

The number of smokers in Lebanon is among the highest in the region and cancer-related illnesses directly linked to tobacco are rising at a rapid rate, health professionals say.

Still, there is speculation as to how far the new ban can actually hold in a country where cigarette, cigar and nargileh (water-pipe) smoking is so popular and widespread.

Some 46 percent of Lebanese men and 31 percent of women are regular cigarette smokers, according to World Health Organization figures that date back to November 2010.

Cigarette packs cost little over a dollar, a price even many Lebanese teenagers can afford.

But rather than focus on the potential health benefits, many have focused on the potential economic cost of the new law.

Lebanese restaurant and cafe owners have cried foul, warning that nargileh cafe owners especially will suffer.

Protest against the ban

Hundreds of Lebanese restaurant owners held a protest on Monday in the Metn town of Antelias to protest the smoking ban that came into effect Monday in Lebanon, LBC televison reported.

“Have mercy on tourism” read one of the banners

On the other hand the head of the parliamentary health committee, Atef Majdalani, told Voice of Lebanon (93.3) radio that the objections which have been raised against the smoking ban were “unjustifiable.”

“The tourism sector will not be [negatively] affected by this law,” he said, adding that people would still be allowed to smoke in open spaces, such as rooftops, balconies, and patios.

Commenting on the ban , Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud told VOL that the task of monitoring the implementation of the new law was “very difficult.”

The minister also said that “any possible law amendments need to be discussed with the legislative authority and not through taking to the streets.”

Al Arabiya

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