An Iraqi Smoking Ban: Where Can GIs Light Up?

By Kerry Golds

Iraq's cabinet approved new anti-smoking legislation. The law bans smoking in public spaces, marketing of tobacco, and Iraqis under age 18 from buying and smoking cigarettes. It's a bold yet laudatory act, given the prevalence of tobacco in the country:

Smoking is widespread in Iraq, with a packet of cigarettes costing only around 500 dinars and cafes providing "sheesha", as water pipes with flavoured tobacco are known, popular in cities and towns.

More than 41 percent of Iraqi men and nearly seven percent of women are smokers, according to the World Health Organisation.

This move recalls similar anti-smoking bans enacted at both the federal and state levels in the United States. American smokers who called such legislation "anti-democratic" might find this undertaking by the Iraqi cabinet ironic: after all, the current legislative body is a product of the ongoing Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The high-percentage of Iraqi smokers indicates that this new law will be a lifestyle disruption for much of the population. What remains unclear, however, is how it will affect the cigarette-smoking American soldier.  

A 2008 story on NPR gives the estimate that over two-thirds of the soldiers stationed in Iraq light up on a regular basis (other studies instead estimate one-third of soldiers--still a higher percentage than that found among civilian Americans). Since American soldiers in Iraq cannot smoke inside base buildings, the new Iraqi law presumably further limits their smoking space. Though there is no disputing the long-term negative effects of tobacco use, it is also true that many soldiers rely on cigarettes for stress-relief. Given the upward trend in military suicides, this encroachment on smoking space provokes concern.

And this is not an issue that will be disappearing soon: a few weeks ago the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs urged the Defense Department to enact anti-smoking laws within the armed services:

...a complete ban on tobacco, which would end tobacco sales on military bases and prohibit smoking by anyone in uniform, not even combat troops in the thick of battle.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2009/08/an-iraqi-smoking-ban-where-can-gis-light-up/22957/