War weary Iraqis scoff at smoking ban plan

Thu Aug 6, 2009 1:58pm EDT
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By Khalid al-Ansary

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's cabinet approved a bill on Thursday to ban smoking in public places, but after years of bombings and kidnappings, chain-smoking Iraqis said they had more important things to worry about.

While violence has fallen sharply in Iraq in the last 18 months, insurgents still conduct major attacks on civilians. And with unemployment at nearly 20 percent, many Iraqis while away the day in cafes in a fog of fruity, aromatic waterpipe smoke.

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the aim of the law was to reduce the number of smokers and to protect the public from smoke -- no small feat in a country where even hospital corridors are littered with cigarette butts.

"The government should worry about car bombs before worrying about the effects of smoking. It has to stop terrorism," said Ali Marham, a 35-year-old computer worker, smoking a waterpipe at a cafe in Baghdad's central Karrada district.

If ratified by parliament, the ban would include a prohibition on smoking in ministry buildings, airports, company buildings, theatres, cinemas and schools, Dabbagh said in a statement. "There will be designated areas for smoking."

It was not clear if the ban would apply to waterpipes.

Other Iraqis, roasting in the searing summer heat, said they would rather the government concentrate on improving the dilapidated electricity sector, which only supplies a few hours of power a day in many parts of the country.

"There are more important issues than this law, like fixing electricity, water shortages and reducing traffic," said Atheer Abdul-Wahab, a cafe worker who smokes 30 cigarettes a day. "I'm ready to give up smoking if the state provides a job for me."   Continued...

<p>An Iraqi soldier wearing camouflage smokes while on a patrol with U.S. soldiers from 1/8 2th MITT unit to look for explosives, weapons and Al-Qaeda militants at an open field in Mosul June 8, 2008. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz</p>