photo: Eddy van Wessel
Monday, July 1, 2013
Smoking? Kurdistan must be one of the last countries where smokers can do as they please. Perhaps not at the airport, sure, but that is because of international regulations. And in public buildings? Well, many Kurdish smokers don’t let themselves be stopped even where smoking is prohibited.
What a difference from where I come from! In the Netherlands, smokers have almost been banned out of closed public spaces. Not only in government buildings, but also in restaurants and cafes they can no longer light up. So smokers can be found on terraces, with heaters against the cold and shelters against the rain.
The nergila cafes that started to appear in Amsterdam, found problems. It is not allowed to smoke inside, so the nergila was banned to often cold and windy terraces – not quite the place for it.
Some cafe-owners without terraces got smart after they saw their customers leave. The EU-regulation is meant to protect employees against the smoke of others. Using the holes in the law, some cafe-owners sent the employees home and do all the work themselves, so they could allow their clientele to smoke.
Since the smoking ban has been put in place, many people stopped smoking. It is no fun standing outside with a fag, if your friends are inside waiting for you. It is a hassle to leave your desk to have a smoke in the special smoker's room. In fact it means the policy is working.
Smokers in the West have become outsiders. For a very good reason: smoking is bad for not only your own health, but also for that of those who have to inhale your smoke. And to dissuade smokers even more from lighting a cigarette, huge taxes have been put on the packets.
Kurdistan seems hardly aware of all this. Only polite people ask if you mind when they light up in your presence. Cigarettes are very cheap, and the cheapest ones are certainly amongst the worst possible for your health.
It took the world a while to find out how bad cigarettes are, but now everybody knows the relation between smoking and cancer. We have seen growing numbers of cancer patients in Kurdistan, but warnings against smoking are hardly heard. I would not at all be surprised if the two facts are linked.
In 2012 the Kurdish Ministry of Health issued a warning that any restaurant, cafe or even shopping mall allowing people to smoke, would be fined 500.000 dinars, around 400 dollars. I don't think any fines have been paid, and people have not stopped smoking.
Kurdistan wants to be seen as a state that cares for its people. It does not have to follow Europe in the banning of smoking. But it does have to educate its citizens, and make them aware of the dangers. For the smoker, and for those inhaling his/her smoke. Especially for those people, because they have no choice. And smoking kills. It really does.
This blog was published as a column in the Kurdish newspaper Kurdistani Nwe