Smoke-Free Alexandria: The Worst Business Decision Ever?

A man sat in the smoking room of one airport to have a cigarette before boarding his plane, on his way out, another man approaches him:

  • Man: How many cigarettes do you smoke a day?
  • Smoker: Do you smoke?
  • Man: No.
  • Smoker: Do you own this plane?
  • Man: No.
  • Smoker: Then why do you ask?
  • Man: Well, if you had saved all the money you spent on smoking, that plane on the runway could have been yours.
  • Man: Thanks for the advice. I smoke and I OWN this plane. My name is Richard Branson (owner of the Virgin brand).

Those who know me know that I rarely criticize the decisions of our decision makers. However, when a decision maker comes up with something that would hurt our already unstable economy, I’m more than willing to make an exception.

A little over a month ago, Adel Labib, the governor of Alexandria, started some sort of a campaign to free Alexandria from the ill effects of smoking. To achieve that goal, two major decisions were made:

  1. Banning smoking in closed public places, including but limited to public transportation, restaurants, and coffee shops.
  2. Banning “Shisha” from ALL coffee shops in Alexandria.

Now in theory, that may sound like a good thing. I mean, smoking, with all its shapes and forms, is deadly harmful for health, not only for the smoker but also for everyone around him/her– the second-hand smokers. Europe understood that and banned smoking in public places long ago. Us catching up now cannot be a bad thing, right?

Before answering let’s take some facts into consideration; in Egypt, cigarettes are not a luxury, but rather a primary commodity– for reasons we all know. I don’t have the exact numbers but a huge percentage of Egyptians, probably even more than half, are smokers, and most of them fall in the 18-40 years age group. Such group tends to meet outdoors and usually end up sitting on some sort of a coffee shops, where they will eventually have a smoke, either shisha or cigarettes, with their drinks.

This guy, along with thousands just like him, is or will be out of work

Let’s be realistic here, most of the coffee shops regulars go there for the smokes. I mean let’s face it; you can drink almost anything at home except shisha. So if you ban the shisha from every coffee shop in Alexandria, and force people to sit outside if they smoke cigarettes, the number of customers will inevitably decrease, especially in winter, where the Alexandria’s weather will make it impossible for smokers to sit outside. That decrease will cause significant losses for the coffee shops owners, eventually leading most of them to close their businesses, which will have two devastating effects. First, a massive damage will be done to the Alexandrian economy, as its primary source of income is the tourists, who consider having that perfect shisha in front of the amazing night sea a main part of their yearly visit. Second, closing those coffee shops will force the release of their workers, who are usually either young newly graduated guys who couldn’t find a decent job, or older ones that work there as a second job to get by.

Now, let’s assume that public ban of shisha from Alexandria is the first step towards its public use ban in all of Egypt. If that happen, many of the factories manufacturing the shisha- yes, they are manufactured in factories, did you think they grow on trees?- will be closed, also leading to the release of their workers, and this time we are not talking about a dozen of guys, but hundreds of workers living below poverty line and mostly supporting big families. Putting them out of work is just not right.

Do not get me wrong, it is not like I am supporting or encouraging smoking in any way. I just believe that there are smarter, less damaging ways to reduce the ill effects of smoking in Egypt. I was actually delighted when the tax rate on smokes’ sales was increased. That was a smart way to reduce the number of smokers– as not everyone, especially the light smokers, was willing to pay the extra money. In addition to that, the government can enforce strict laws to prevent the sale of smokes to kids younger than 18 years, make clever ad campaigns, ban smoking in the media, and so on.

Yes, smoking is bad for both our health and for the environment. But, unemployment and starving to death is much, much worse.

So, what do you think? Is the Alexandria smoking ban- and eventually moving on to every major city of Egypt- harms more than it helps, or is it a necessary evil?

Your comments are much appreciated.



One Response to Smoke-Free Alexandria: The Worst Business Decision Ever?

  1. Mariam El-Masry says:


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