Egypt attempts smoking ban

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Egypt is trying to make the city of Alexandria smoke-free. But as The World's Carol Hills reports, it's a hard sell in that country of smokers.

MARCO WERMAN: Egypt is taking on what many Egyptians might find laughable; an attempt to make one of their major cities smoke free. A limited smoking ban took effect today in Alexandria. It applies to government buildings and hospitals, but it will be extended to restaurants and cafes in two years. The World's Carol Hills has more.

CAROL HILLS: Egyptians like to smoke. They're the Arab world's biggest consumers of cigarettes. The estimate is that they smoke about 19 billion a year. So it's not surprising to hear these kinds of comments made to a BBC reporter today in Alexandria.

INTERPRETER: This is not going to work for people like me. I'm a smoker. If I can't smoke in public places then I shall go back to my village in Upper Egypt and smoke as much as I like.

INTERPRETER: I don't know what kind of decision this is. It is a matter of personal freedom. They have nothing to do with this. We used to sit by the sea and smoke a cigarette at a cafe. It's a matter of personal freedom.

HILLS: Egyptians smoke everywhere, in cars, offices, restaurants, homes, public transit. And it's estimated that 40% of Egyptian men smoke. But not every Egyptian hates the idea of going smoke free. Listen to this resident of Alexandria.

INTERPRETER: Smoking is an unhealthy thing and an ugly scene. I feel the more decisions in this direction the better. I'm all for such decisions, even if people think they breech personal freedoms.

HILLS: Personal freedoms aside, more and more countries are adopting smoking bans of varying strength and they're not always the countries you'd expect, like Sweden or Norway. Take Turkey, people there love to smoke. About a year ago the Turkish government imposed a smoking ban in public buildings. A month later it was extended to cafes and restaurants. Turks were outraged, they took to the streets. But you know what? Just a few months ago Turkish officials announced that 97% of businesses were complying with the smoking ban. And that cigarette sales had dropped 15% since the ban went into effect. One of the reasons is that Turks started to enjoy smoke free environments. Well, they also imposed fines for anyone caught smoking where they shouldn't; about $45.00. Maybe Egyptians will find they like the smoke free life. We'll see. Meantime, the Egyptian government hasn't said how it plans to enforce the ban in Alexandria. For The World, I'm Carol Hills.