COVID19 gets Jordan to confront its tobacco problem

Jordan Coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak concept
  • Health activists and experts hope that the smoking ban that came into force on July 1 will be better implemented due to the scare around coronavirus.

Jordan had banned smoking cigarettes in closed public spaces in 2008. But the implementation of the ban was non-existent and it is not surprising in a country that recently surpassed Indonesia to clock the highest smoking rate in the world. In light of the pandemic, the ban has now been extended to all forms of smoking in closed public spaces – from cigarettes to electronic cigarettes and shishas. It came into effect on July 1.

The country’s health ministry cited the World Health Organization, saying that smokers and passive smokers are more vulnerable to being infected by COVID19 and will exhibit stronger symptoms. While Jordan has registered 1,133 cases and nine deaths so far, authorities are taking extra precautions for its population of heavy smokers. More than eight out of ten men in the country smoke some form of nicotine. When it comes to smoking manufactured cigarettes, 66 per cent of the men and 17 of women indulge in it.

The total quarterly spend on smoking reached 1.6 billion Jordanian dinars or $2.26 billion this year, according to the Department of General Statistics. That’s about 6 per cent of the country’s GDP and amounts to the average spending of 115 dinars each year by every citizen. Despite the high taxes on cigarettes, the price of cigarettes in the country is quite low and everyone can indulge in the habit without denting their wallets. Apart from this, there is also a lot of community pressure to smoke.

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The government taxes cigarettes at 75 per cent and rakes in 1 billion dinars a year or $1.4 billion, giving it a poor incentive to implement anti-smoking laws more rigorously. But for each dinar it earns as revenue from cigarettes sales tax, it spends 12 on treating smoking-related diseases. Every year, the country has to shell out 4 billion dinars on medical expenses to cover the smokers and 95 per cent of those with lung cancer are smokers. Health activists and expert have been waging a losing battle against the popularity of cigarettes in the country and any meaningful legislation so far have been thwarted by lobbyists and business owners. The hope is that what years of activism and health warnings couldn’t achieve could be advanced a little bit thanks to the fear of the coronavirus.

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