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Taxi drivers not enforcing new smoking ban
A man smokes a cigarette in front of a newly No Smoking sign attached at the Justice Palace in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, April 26, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)
A man smokes a cigarette in front of a newly No Smoking sign attached at the Justice Palace in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, April 26, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)
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BEIRUT: The roads of the capital city are not known as a place where rules and regulations reign, and the attitude among taxi drivers to the smoking ban isn’t much different to the attitude toward red lights or speed restrictions.

“I smoke four packs a day. Wherever I want to,” said Abdullah, who has been driving his taxi around Beirut for 40 years during the day, driving a truck at night. “Who is implementing the law? There is no government.”

Disregard for the law is coupled with a lack of understanding of it. Many taxi drivers believe the law does not come into effect until September, or they believe that only passengers will be fined. In fact, passengers who smoke in public transport vehicles could receive a fine of LL135,000, with drivers facing a fine of LL2 million and taxi companies between LL2 million and LL6 million.

The question “Can I smoke in here?” was met with acquiescence by all five taxi drivers The Daily Star spoke to.

“I know there’s a ban, but you asked, so I let you,” said Khaled, during a taxi drive near the Sanayeh district. “I don’t smoke myself. I support the ban, but there is no way to enforce it.”

All agreed not letting passengers smoke was a risky business decision, especially given that none had heard of anybody being fined or cautioned for smoking.

Yet equally, all taxi drivers but one said they would put out a cigarette if they were asked.

“I believe the ban on smoking is a bad idea. Cigarettes are very, very good in cars. Cigarettes and coffee,” said Majid Hasan, indicating the coffee he had just pulled over to buy en route to Downtown Beirut from the Corniche. “I have never stopped anyone from smoking in my car, but I would put out my cigarette if a passenger told me to. Yesterday a woman said ‘smoking bothers me,’ and I threw it away.”

In general, the taxi drivers The Daily Star spoke to had little regard for any regulations, and felt like the risk of smoking in their car was minimal compared to the benefits.

“It is too stressful not to smoke. My job is too stressful, this country is too stressful,” said Wajdi. “Why do they sell these packs if they want to ban smoking? Who’s benefiting from selling these packs, me or the government?” asked Abdullah. “Once there’s a state, they can fine me if I smoke.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 27, 2012, on page 4.
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