Mikati firm on smoke ban, suggests amendments

Prime Minister Najib Mikati, left, speaks with Youth and Sports Minister Faisal Karami during a Cabinet session at the Grand Serail in Beirut, Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2012. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)

BEIRUT: Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Tuesday his government was committed to the smoking ban which has been a target of criticism by restaurant owners and suggested a committee be formed to look into possible amendments of the law.

“The government is committed to implementing the smoking ban in-doors which was fully approved by Parliament last year ... It was preceded by a campaign explaining the law, its importance, the positive effect on health and environment,” the prime ministertold the Syndicate of Restaurant, Cafe and Nightclub owners at the Grand Serail.

According to his press office, Mikati said the owners of businesses should have prepared a study following the approval of the law in Parliament last year detailing their viewpoints, and presented alternatives to MPs.

Law 174 banning smoking indoors went into effect Monday, prompting several restaurants and nargileh cafes to shut down in protest of the law.

Over 350 demonstrators gathered Monday in the Metn town of Antelias, just north of Beirut, protesting the ban and calling for amendments.

The protesters also said such a law would harm Lebanon’s tourism sector.

The restaurant owners’ meeting with Mikati Tuesday was aimed at discussing the possibility of amending the law, which some have said will force the closure of some businesses.

During his meeting with the syndicate’s delegation, Mikati left the door open for amendments to the law.

“It could be useful to create a joint committee of ministers, parliamentarians and union representatives tasked with studying all the law’s dimensions rather than witness negative steps such as strikes,” he said.

“The government recognizes the suffering by workers of the tourism sector generally and restaurant owners specifically, but we cannot ignore how much better citizens and civil society groups feel now that the ban has been introduced,” the prime minister added.

After the meeting, head of the syndicate Paul Arees said that 5,000 restaurants had already adopted the law along with an estimated 1,000 nightclubs, adding that the owners’ main concern was to amend the law as soon as possible to guarantee the continuity of institutions.

“I want to stress that smoking in restaurants is forbidden but we will reach a solution soon for cafes as well as nightclubs,” Arees told reporters.

He said cafes would still receive smokers given that they had designated sections for them.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 05, 2012, on page 5.




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