Anti-smoking legislation Now! Say Lebanese activists
BEIRUT: Activists staged a protest on Wednesday against what they say is foot-dragging by a parliamentary committee to finalize a draft law to ban smoking in closed public spaces and end unregulated cigarette advertisements.
As the Administration and Justice Committee met at Nijmeh Square in Downtown Beirut to discuss the draft legislation, more than a dozen activists posed as pregnant women and wore masks to highlight the degree of danger to people’s health from secondhand smoke.
The League of Independent Activists (IndyACT), in collaboration with the American University of Beirut and the Tobacco Free Initiative have organized a national campaign to promote the drafting of a modern law for tobacco control, but have so far failed to accomplish their aim.
“The parliamentary committee has been taking a lot of time to finalize a draft law on tobacco control because representatives of British American Tobacco Company have recently attended the committee’s meetings,” Executive Director of IndyACT Wael Hmaidan told The Daily Star during the protest.
According to an Article 5 of the WHO’s international Framework Convention for Tobacco Control, the committees drafting public health policies should work to protect them from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry.
Sources close to the Administration and Justice Committee told The Daily Star that in legislative hearings all the parties affected by the law must take part. The sources added that in the case of hearings on tobacco control law, the country’s Tobacco Regie representative should be present to offer further insight on the law.
The protestors made their stand across the street from the Municipality of Beirut, but had hoped to take their protest to Parliament, several hundred meters away. Lebanese Army personnel prevented them from doing so, while the activists faced continuous questioning by members of the Internal Security Forces.
“Lebanon is part of the Framework Convention for Tobacco Control and ratified it in 2004,” said Hmaidan, who voiced hope that the formation of a new government would help speed up the process of seeing the draft legislation reach Parliament for a general vote.
Hmaidan said that although tobacco companies are the major obstacle to the endorsement of a new tobacco control law, the Administration and Justice Committee has been passing off part of its responsibility to the Health and Finance Ministries.
“The committee has said that the adding of pictorial warning that covers 40 percent of the cigarette pack would require the intervention of the Finance Ministry,” Hmaidan commented.
Earlier this month, the committee, which is chaired by Western Bekaa MP Robert Ghanem, approved a draft law banning all advertisements that promote tobacco products, forbidding smoking in closed public spaces, and mandating visu al warnings that cover almost half of the cigarette pack.
During the protest Wednesday, the committee convened for a special meeting to solve the disagreements over the placing of pictorial labels on cigarette packets, but the meeting lacked a quorum and was adjourned to March 30.
“I believe the delays and lack of quorum is a tactic being employed by the committee to further delay the finalization of the draft law on tobacco control,” said Hmaidan.
When asked if the campaign would intensify against what the activists say is foot-dragging by legislators, Hmaidan said that they would start identifying members who are in direct contact with tobacco industry representatives.
“We will name the MPs who are illegally taking part in the committee’s meetings,” Hmaidan added.
Activists who took part in the demonstration wore T-shirts that read in Arabic: “Your smoke is killing my baby,” accompanied by a picture of an infant on their stomachs to signify the deadly impact of secondhand smoke within the highly smoke-dominant culture of Lebanon.
“We came here to voice our demand for a ban on smoking in public spaces and to spread awareness about the dangers of smoke to everyone’s health,” said Thuraya Zahnan, one of the activists. “But for some reason they [Lebanese Army] didn’t let us protest in front of Parliament,” Zahnan added.