Got a match, effendi?

October 14, 2009

Dr. BASHAR AL-ASSAD

Dr. BASHAR AL-ASSAD

I’m glad Peter Lorre wasn’t around to see this: The president of Syria has banned smoking in public places. President Bashar al-Assad did this by decree, so at least that characteristic of Syrian life has been preserved, but will Syria be Syria without smoke-filled cafes? Assad is a medical doctor, so he is very conscious of the harmful effects of smoking and of exposure to second-hand smoke.

I’ve never been a smoker, so these bans are irrelevant to me from that point of view, and I’m sufficiently convinced of the health risks to believe that the practice should be confined to the great outdoors or to strictly private places. Still, I can’t help feeling a twinge of melancholy over the loss of atmosphere — hazy as it was. No such decree has been imposed on my landsmen in Lebanon — not that any one in Lebanon pays much attention to decrees. The last figure I saw indicated that more than 53 percent of Lebanese adults are smokers and that they suck ’em down at the rate of 23 a day. When we visited there at the end of the Clinton administration, we couldn’t calculate which were more ubiquitous in Lebanese hands — cigarettes or cell phones.

alice-wonderland-caterpillar1As long as President Assad is messing with the ambiance in and around Damascus, he has also imposed sharp restrictions on the use of the argileh, or hookah. Give him credit for chutzpah — if I may use that term with respect to Assad; popularity of the argileh is on the rise, especially among young people.

Not only that, but the president isn’t going to tolerate little Syrians sitting around mimicking the images they might see in old movies and getting the idea that there is something dramatic about taking a long drag, slowly exhaling, squinting through the blue haze and demanding of some quivering lackey, “Did you get the information?” Assad has also banned any candy or toys made to look like tobacco products – and tobacco advertising.

Hey, a little arbitrary rule never hurt anybody.

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One Response to “Got a match, effendi?”

  1. Shifty Says:

    In Egypt a hookah is a shisha. I would guess outlawing smoking in public would be just about as effective there as in Lebanon.

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