BEIRUT: Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud said Tuesday that restaurants violating the country’s smoking ban would be shut down as activists renewed their calls for stricter implementation of the law.
“The tourism police have issued 1,391 fines against violators of Law 174 and this points to how seriously [we are taking] monitoring and accountability,” Abboud said after a meeting with Interior Minister Marwan Charbel and Economy Minister Nicolas Nahas.
Abboud, who called for more inter-ministry cooperation to monitor the implementation of the law, warned restaurant and cafe owners that the authorities were serious about closing businesses that violated the legislation.
“Owners of establishments who continue their violations will definitely be shut down,” Abboud said. The law, which has incensed restaurants and cafe owners for causing losses to their businesses, went into effect last year after a long series of deliberations in Parliament.
Earlier this week, civil society organizations claimed that individuals and other non-hospitality sector establishments were so far the main victims of the crackdown.
Several associations, including the Civil Campaign to Monitor Law 174, said in a joint statement Monday that “at a time when some restaurants, coffee shops, and clubs act as if the anti-smoking law is nonexistent, the judiciary continues to issue citations against individuals and institutions that are in violation of the law.”
The groups said a single judge in the Metn had issued around 200 fines against violators of Law 174, involving fines of up to LL 3 million, but that the punishments handed down on tourist and hospitality sector establishments could be “counted on the fingers of one hand.”
One of the activists, Ali Fakhry, said that the delay was due to the absence of the tourism police and the sluggish bureaucracy of the Justice Ministry.
“We call on the Justice Ministry to speed up the procedures of issuing the fines against violators,” said Fakhry, a media campaigner for Indy Act, a local nongovernmental organization.
Fakhry told The Daily Star that the tourism police complain that they are suffering from a human resource shortage and can’t effectively monitor the law’s implementation.
“The tourism police say that they are few in number and cannot go after every violator in the country,” said Fakhry, adding that the Interior Ministry should allocate a larger number of Internal Security Forces personnel to the tourism police.
Fakhry also said activists have received reports that some tourism police officers have accepted bribes from violators of the law.
“The implementation of the law is in danger because we have received reports that the police are accepting bribes from owners of restaurants so that they won’t be given a fine.”
Some of the restaurants that have neglected the smoking ban are popular restaurant chains that argue they would incur huge losses if they enforced the law inside their establishments.
At the meeting, Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said that restaurant owners should recognize the advantages of Law 174 for public health.
“Russia has also introduced a smoking ban recently in all public spaces as a result of society’s understanding of the dangers that result from smoking,” Charbel said.
Charbel also said that restaurant owners currently complaining about the law had a period of one year prior to its implementation to take the necessary measures to meet the requirements. “They should have been preparing suitable places during that period, instead of complaining about the timing of the law.”
Abboud said the ministers had agreed to establish a new hotline to report violations to divide the workload among different ministries.