Lebanon News

Health Ministry sends warning to hospitals over smoking ban

Women sit under a No Smoking sign at a hospital in Beirut, Wednesday, March 27, 2013. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Bars and restaurants are not the only establishments having trouble enforcing the smoking ban, as even hospitals are now coming under increased scrutiny after the Health Ministry received several complaints that staff, visitors and even patients were lighting up indoors.

“With regard to employees, of course they should be respecting the law and this pushes us to seek full enforcement,” Suleiman Haroun, the head of the Association of Private Hospitals, told The Daily Star. “With visitors and patients, it is much harder to enforce, because not everyone is cooperating.”

He made the comments one day after attending a meeting at the ministry to discuss the issue. Haroun said he called for a “comprehensive” approach to enforcement, including awareness campaigns and penalties for hospitals where violations are taking place.

“We decided there must be fines for them to feel we are serious,” said Haroun. “Some people are going out on the balcony and shutting the door to smoke – we can’t put a doorman on every balcony.”

According to Fadi Sinan, the head of the ministry’s anti-smoking program, his team received complaints against “more than one” hospital, both public and private, but could not offer an exact number. Until now, no fines have been issued against hospitals, but he told The Daily Star they would start enforcing the law strictly from now on.

“We held this [meeting] as a warning to them [the hospitals],” he said, adding that a team of doctors and monitors from the ministry would be making surprise visits to hospitals throughout the country.

Fines of LL135,000 will be issued against any individual caught smoking, and LL5 million will be levied against the hospital.

Any hospital that racks up three offenses will see its contract with the Health Ministry terminated.

One of the biggest challenges, Sinan said, was that the public remained skeptical of the government’s commitment to enforcement.

“In general, people were not convinced that [the smoking ban] would be implemented,” he explained. “We have been very clear that this is not against anyone; it’s not even against those who smoke – let them smoke – but for the sake of others, they should respect the law.”

“People will say now is not the time ... but you can’t stop everything, and this is very important,” he said. “Lebanon has among the highest cancer rates in the world.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 28, 2013, on page 4.




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