On Jordanian Smokescreen Laws

Everyone has a horror story when it comes to smoking in Jordan, and I mean everyone. In the past several years you may have noticed a flood of “No Smoking” signs erected almost everywhere: taxis, hospitals, government offices/ministries, restaurants and many many other places. You may have also noticed the massive double standards since you will always find someone smoking near one of these signs.

Such stories I can tell you from experience. Like the time I went to the King Hussein Medical City where not only was one of the buildings decorated with no smoking signs everywhere but they even installed a device on the wall which would beep if smoking was detected. It would even start flashing red lights. I can never forget seeing someone right beneath it smoking; the cut wires of the smoke alarms were ripped out of the walls.

Have you ever stepped in to a taxi in Amman and found the driver smoking heavily while his dashboard was littered with no smoking signs? Have they ever offered you a smoke? Have you ever asked the driver the point behind the sign if he himself smoked? Have you ever gotten “the sign isn’t for me! It’s for the passengers!” as a response?

Have you ever stopped at a red light and noticed a mother or a father in the car next to you smoking with their kids in the backseat?

What’s the first thing you smell when you step off an airplane in Queen Alia Airport?

Have you ever been to a Ministry office and spent the majority of an hour holding your breathe while employees and citizens dangled their cigarettes? Ashes falling everywhere?

Have you ever known anyone who broke his or her fast in Ramadan on nothing more than Arabic coffee and a cigarette?

Have you ever had someone light up in a movie theater? Have you ever told someone that those cigarettes are bad for their health? Have you ever gotten “Who cares! I want to die! What’s it to you!?” as a response?

The list is endless and reads like the script of a horror story; if only smoking caused some horrible flesh eating disease of some sort, well then we’d have a movie.

But on with the real story…

Jordanian lawyer Nancy Fashho conducted a study on smoking in Jordan with relation to Jordanian laws. Some of her findings were quite interesting:

Number of fines issued in:

2005: 9,935
2004: 15,979
2003: 3,788
2001-2002: nil

Before 2001? Pure smoking anarchy.

Section 3a of Article 49 of the Law states that the fine for Smoking while Driving a vehicle is set at a minimum of 15 JDs and a maximum of 30 JDs

The fine for Smoking in Public Transportation is minimum 10 and maximum 20 JDs.

Now for smoking in the Departures area of the Queen Alia Airport the General Health temporary law of 2002 was amended from imprisonment of minimum 1 week to maximum 1 year to (currently) a period of not more than 4 months. Or the paying of a fine (which stayed the same) that ranges from 25 to 500 JDs.

The Environmental Preservation law (1) of 2003 merely stated the preservation of the environment from the dangers of pollution as a result of “dangerous elements” and “noise pollution”, not mentioning smoking even though it is considered one of the biggest polluters.

Another law in 2001 governs teenagers buying, or being employed to buy, tobacco and argeelah (water pipe, hubbly bubbly). This covers places which sell tobacco, cafes, night clubs, restaurants and liquor stores. The law stipulates having signs which indicate they do not sell to under age customers and following appropriate procedures to check the age.

Of course this pretty much does not happen and a 7 year old can be sent to the super market to buy a pack of ciggies for his father or mother.

The fine is 20 JDs and doubles if the law is broken again.

Selling to an under age customer may result in a imprisonment of no more than 6 months or a fine of no more than 500 JDs (or both). This applies to selling tobacco, allowing entrance into night clubs or liquor stores, or offering them argeelah. The punishment doubles if repeated. The Minister of Interior also gave permission for these places to be closed down for no less than a month and no more than 3 months in the case of repetitive breaking of the law.

The study also requests that the temporary law for under age buying and selling become a permanent law to help protect this age group from being exposed to smoking.

Jordan’s under age population (below 18 years old) which currently smokes, is now at a staggering 59%

Nancy Fashho’s study imparts one vital conclusion: there is a lack of seriousness in applying these laws.

And the problem is as simple as that. All these laws and no one to apply them. As you can see from the number of fines above in relation to their dates, it’s nothing. Every time I walk into a convenience store in Canada with some 16 year old trying to buy cigarettes, you have the guy behind the counter worried he’ll loose his job for selling them. In Jordan it is absolutely no big deal. Even if a cop was in the store no one worries. I’m guessing the only reason those numbers above even exist are because cops are told to meet a certain quota by year’s end.

Until we see a cafe or restaurant owner shivering in his boots for serving an argeelah to a teenager you will never see the country serious about anti-smoking. And this is a sad thing to see during a time when the west is now combating it. Can’t smoke in the Departures wing of the Airport? Try not smoking in restaurants and cafes all together!

59% of our youth is smoking. 59%. How many of them will make enough money to afford cigarettes? How many of them will be part of a healthy workforce in less than 5 years from now?

So what’s the use of all these No Smoking signs plastered all over the country if the people smoking don’t care for them, the people who put them up don’t care for them, and the people assigned to uphold their laws don’t care for them?

It’s 2006 and we are literally living behind a smokescreen.

Almost a year ago
the Ministry of Health said it was going to force companies to place shock images on cigarette packaging all over the Kingdom as was done in countries like Canada. It took the Ministry almost a year to date to give these companies till the middle of March to implement. What’s up with the enforcement?

Why someone even starts smoking is beyond me. Peer pressure is crap because everyone was young once and everyone was more or less pressured into smoking at least once during their youth. Peer pressure only works if the victim has no confidence in themselves or their decisions.

The laws are there: apply them! Screw spending all this money on awareness campaigns, whether through schools or other places! If you want to teach the people something fine the heck out of them and I guarantee you people will learn. Jordanians are stubborn and I should know; we don’t quit something unless the consequence of keeping it up is worse than lung cancer i.e. money. Forget about raising the fuel prices or the property taxes on all of the citizens! If you think about it, considering the number of people who get sick from smoking and who end up getting treated in public hospitals paid for by tax payer dinars, smokers are a real burden on the economy. So why should the whole country have to cover the bill of treating people for smoking (3,300 cancer cases annually)? Why should the whole country have to make up for lost hours and wages and productivity from a dying workforce?

Forget about putting them in jails, we would only have to pay more to house them there. Increase the fines and above all, for the sake of all that is sane and holy, APPLY THE LAW!

“The Boss says he isn’t fasting today so you can finish your jobs inside the office today!!”

If you are a smoker reading this, what are you still doing smoking?

Get inspired and quit the habit!


  • You’re right that money out of pocket today is more of a threat to people than cancer 30 years down the road. I don’t know how much Jordan taxes cigarettes now, but it wouldn’t hurt to raise it to help pay medical bills for all the smokers (and those suffering second hand smoke). But then again… by my calculations most of the bus and taxi drivers in Jordan are already spending more on cigarettes than they are earning in salary!

    One of my friends once commented, “In America it’s shameful to smoke. In Jordan it’s shameful NOT to smoke.” This has to change before we will see a real drop in smoking in Jordan.

  • To all the questions you asked in the first part: yes, yes, yes, yes!
    And to the second part, I totally agree that the law should be applied. But who is going to apply the law? Corrupt police men? This not the only issue that requires the law to be enforced, and I believe the main reason is that we don’t have cops who are faithful to their job, no matter who the violator is (cousin of my friend’s neighbor!).

    If I find someone smoking in Queen Alia airport this summer, and I walk over to the person dressed like he’s in charge, and tell him to tell them to stop smoking, do you really think I will get a positive response? (maybe if I was blond and blue eyed and was wearing something skimpy, the police man might want to help me out). If I walk to the individual smoking and tell them to read the sign, they will be like “meen 7attik shurtee 3alaina?” lol.

    But in the end, it needs to start from the top of the food chain: accountability, accountability, accountability.


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