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Lebanese PM says committed to smoking ban despite criticism
People smoke waterpipe as they sit in a cafe in Antelias, north of Beirut, Monday, Sept. 3, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)
People smoke waterpipe as they sit in a cafe in Antelias, north of Beirut, Monday, Sept. 3, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)
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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 nonsmoking 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,” Mikati told the Syndicate of Restaurant, Cafe and Nightclub owners at the Grand Serail.

According to his press office, Mikati added that 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 Narguileh 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 that such a law would harm the country’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 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 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 have already adopted the law along with an estimated 1,000 nightclubs, adding that the owners' main concern is 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 added that cafes would still receive smokers given that they have designated sections for them.

 
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