Foreign Policy:

More than a decade ago, Iran passed one of the world’s most comprehensive anti-smoking laws. The 2007 law bans smoking in closed places such as buildings, hotels, restaurants, and cars. Iran scored nine out of 10 in the World Health Organization’s latest tobacco report, which evaluates a country’s laws, cessation efforts, and other anti-tobacco measures.

“We’ve seen a drastic change,” pulmonologist Mohammad Reza Masjedi, the head of the Iranian Anti-Tobacco Association, told Foreign Policy. “Due to education campaigns and media coverage, those buildings are smoke-free.”

Yet after 11 years, tobacco use in Iran remains almost the same as when the law first passed.Yet after 11 years, tobacco use in Iran remains almost the same as when the law first passed.

Iran’s anti-smoking efforts reflect the wider difficulties faced by the government: Tobacco use is a deeply ingrained habit, and appeals to Islamic values, which had an impact on other social issues years ago, have failed to win over the population. Whether it is smokers or protesting workers, the government now has a harder time exercising control.

Before the law change, in 2005, just over 15 percent of Iranians smoked, according to health surveys. By 2007, smoking had decreased to 11 percent, according to some studies. However, the overall rate shot up again. Today, it stands at 14 percent, according to the latest Ministry of Health statistics.

The law hasn’t accomplished everything its advocates hoped it would. Many restaurant owners ignore the ban, Masjedi said, and he blames an increase in the use of water pipes for offsetting a drop in cigarette smoking. Water pipes can cause the same negative health effects as cigarettes, but that’s not how many young Iranians see it...

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