Tobacco is injurious for health and the Syrian government is right to ban smoking in certain public places. However, the recently enacted decree does not distinguish between non-ventilated, poorly and well-ventilated public areas . The case of Syrian coffee houses is striking for the inconsistency and poses the question of the scientific integrity of the US and Syrian experts who touted the ban.
HIGHLY RELEVANT: Open Letter to Wasim Maziak, Syrian Political Opponent and Head of the US-Syrian «Research» Centre in Aleppo (US-SCTS). 7 Sep 2013
«Independent Syrian experts are likely right to say that the ongoing pseudo-revolution there (17 months now) is meant, not only to achieve macro objectives in the region but, also, in the end, a certain lifestyle (all independent travellers knowing Syria will understand): the simplicity of daily life, its low cost, Middle East sociability best expressed by Syrian coffee-houses and patios with their gurgling narghiles, etc… What is at stake is the repeated intent, begun in Iraq, to implement the US Great/New Middle East Project at all levels: from the political hyper-structure to the socio-cultural aspects. In the view of their designers and their men in the region, the “Arab way of life” must be shattered thanks to the emergence of a consumerist society essentially based on competition.
Other related important article authored by Wasim Maziak:
Post hoc (update) FOREWORD. Wasim MAZIAK, director of the million dollar US-funded Syrian anti-“”waterpipe”” smoking centre, said:
“Throughout history, whenever an ideology is given a political machine, it becomes a vehicle for cruelty and destruction. Ideologies do not recognize individuals, gray areas, self-criticism or anything outside their narrow boundaries. For in service of the ultimate truth, all means and sacrifices are justified. Corporate interest, on the other hand, is a driving force in many conflicts and wars as well as global health and environmental problems. We see political ideologies or aggressive economic interests —or worse, both—at the heart of every current human or natural conflict. Our world today, alas, is shaped by greed and politics. ”
Why does not he clearly mention which ideology he refers to ? What about the prohibitionist antismoking ideology he is a champion of ? Why has he been selling -since 2002 (the official date, according to him, of research on shisha smoking)- the global waterpipe health scare to US “public health” agencies ?[**] Is s not this reminiscent of another tragic character of the region : Ahmed Chalabi’s who sold to US falcons a whole country (Iraq) on grounds of similar scares (about so-called “mass destruction weapons”) ?
[*] Maziak W. On the verge of avalanche. Leonardo 2006; 39(2): 95. http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1162/leon.2006.39.2.95 [**] Maziak W. The global epidemic of waterpipe smoking. Addictive Behaviors 2010 (Aug) http:/dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2010.08.030
What was not said in the media about the Syrian President’s sudden decision to ban tobacco smoking in all public places, including cafes, is that such a move has been prepared, for years, by US and Syrian antismoking activists, particularly those based in Memphis and Virginia Commonwealth Universities (Wasim Maziak, Thomas Eissenberg, Kenneth Ward). The latter are the three main researchers of the US funded (up to about $ 7 million) so-called Syrian Centre for Tobacco Studies (US-SCTS).
It appears that the great majority of its publications deal with ““waterpipe”” (in one word, as a functionalist nominalism) smoking. In this respect,
the graphic communication symbol (logo) of this organisation (image below) is clearsince it represents a narghile (hookah, shisha), not a cigarette or a cigar… Consequently, what is the target is actually Narghile, an objective negated for many years by the director of the US-SCTS (Wasim Maziak) but eventually revealed in an antismoking journal .
[Photo: Traditional coffee-hous in Syria. Credit: middle-east-online.com, 12 Oct 2009]
In direct collaboration with the above-mentioned antismoking organisation, the US-American University of Beirut works towards the same narghile eradication objective. with a US-budget amounting now to about $ 3 million. Similarly, the publications released by this university have almost exclusively focused on narghile smoking (Alan Shihadeh). Recently, the regional bureau of the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) has hyped the danger posed by narghile smoking as a threat to the “Human Security of the Arab world” [
4]. However, for specialists (not lay persons), it appears that one member from the US-American University (Samer Jabbour) stood behind this alert. Unsurprisingly, he is an antismoking colleague of the four above-mentioned ““waterpipe”” experts. All of them are also members of Globalink, the world antismoking network of about 6,000 activists around the world, sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry (Pfizer laboratories among others).
[image above: The logo (graphic emblema) of the US-funded SCTS ( “Syrian Centre for Tobacco Studies” ]
First question regarding the Syrian sudden smoking ban : Where is the local science that would justify it ?
Apparently nowhere… Such documents have not been mentioned so it is amazing to see how journalists of the world mainstream media do not even ask for them. Consequently, let us reveal here that the scientific “evidence”, provided by the ““waterpipe”” experts to the Syrian Presidency through the Ministry of Health, is based on the following publications :
> the WHO flawed report on ““waterpipe”” tobacco smoking [
7], prepared by the above experts. Wasim Maziak is one of the chief authors whose contribution was camouflaged but, under exceptional circumstances, eventually declared after two years… This report states, among other many errors:“Second-hand smoke from waterpipes […] poses a serious risk for non-smokers”.
> two articles dealing with “passive smoking” (Environmental Tobacco Smoke) and published by the US-funded Syrian centre [
8]. These papers contains many errors and flaws and have been revealed in a critical comprehensive review on this issue .
> the WHO FCTC (Framework Convention for Tobacco Control) which has been framed by the same individuals of the Globalink network [
6]. The scope of each of its sections is so broad that this reference can be called down or cited in almost any case, particularly when sound scientific evidence is lacking. Because most of the states of the world are signatories of this treaty, national legislation can, most of the time, be easily overidden.
It is noteworthy that the US-Syrian centre boasts of carrying out “model” research for the “developing world” [
11]. A retrospective analysis of this “model” science is now available in the form of a “knol” (piece of knowledge). Interestingly, an Arab Editorial recently wondered:““Why is it left to countries such as the UK and France to undertake research in shisha smoking? Shisha is part of Arab culture, not British or French culture”…
Now, the reader who has not visited the country is invited to consider the photograph provided by
The Middle East Online. Does not it clearly show that Syrian coffee houses, which are famous around the world for their unique atmosphere, are apparently well ventilated ? Indeed, all independent “passive smoking” experts of the world agree that a good ventilation system is quite enough to eliminate any risk for non-smokers . Only antismoking social engineers, obviously more concerned with changing lifestyles than improving the health of peoples, state the opposite.
Second question regarding the Syrian sudden smoking ban : where is the International science behind bans on smoking in cafes ?
In the European Union, the “bulk of evidence” produced by “respectable” national agencies was published in a report titled “Lifting the Smokescreen” [
15]. It appeared that it was based on manipulated statistics. This official publication was debunked by the France top tobacco authority himself .
Every time, the scenario is the same. In the United Kingdom, doctors have touted a publication full of serious errors (one of them is based on a striking optic illusion about smoke…) to support the ban implemented by July 2007 [
12]. Wasim Maziak for Syria and Alan Shihadeh for Lebanon were personally interviewed by ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) in a paper comparing 1 orange with 200 apples . The sub-heading of the article reads“Three leading experts from across the Middle East have warned that excluding “shisha bars” when England goes smokefree on July 1 could worsen the grave inequalities in health that already affect ethnic minorities”…
The three leading ““waterpipe”” experts from the Middle East were therefore very supportive and the one from the US-American University of Beirut even added that narghile smoking is a plight left in the region by “colonialism” (sic). The latter was to be understood as European colonialism (not US) for reasons probably related to the affiliation of its author [
More recently in the UK, the BBC was criticised for gross exaggeration after it fell in a trap (or sleight of hand) set by antismoking organisations whose experts hyped the hazards caused by sporadic exposition to carbon monoxide generated by shisha [
In France, there have been two interesting related events. On the one hand, the antismoking experts of the national health agency (INPES) have also been victims of a deadly optic illusion just as their UK colleagues (see image). On the other hand, two French shisha experts (Bertrand Dautzenberg, president of OFT, the national antismoking agency, and Jean-Yves Nau, a medical journalist with Le Monde national newspaper) have published in May 2007 a 144 page “book” on the great hazards posed by hookah smoking, and particularly passive smoking. This “book” aimed to be the hookah “scientific basis” for the French Ministry of Health. The latter enacted a decree (similar to the Syrian one) making no distinction between hospitality venues and other public places, not to mention between tobacco forms (cigarette, cigar, narghile, etc.).
[ picture : WHO (World Health Organisation)-based photomontage (fake poster) by French INPES (Institut National pour la Prévention et l’Education à la Santé), officially used in 2006 campaign against narghile and its “environmental tobacco smoke”]
Such a “book” not only proved to be the greatest fraud in the history of tobacco research (with errors on almost every page) but also a high form of plagiarism. These facts have been published in a peer-reviewed biomedical journal [
21]. Further to all these revelations, the French hookah lounges kept working in spite of the unscientific decree.
Note: on further developments in the region (Lebanon, April 2010): See related Knol :The Lebanese Ban on Smoking in Hospitality Venues (Cafes, etc.):US Interventionism and Prohibition in the Name of the FCTC (Framework Convention on Tobacco Control). Knol. 2010 (Apr 14)].
Most recently, Wasim Maziak, has declared to the US press that “no research into hookah use existed before 2002” [
22],i.e.the inception date of his US-funded antismoking organisation. Of course this is a blatant lie. There is unfortunately no other word to describe such a behaviour because there had been numerous valuable scientific independent (this is very important) studies published over the last decades. If a date were needed, it would be 1622 and certainly not 2002… Because of the negative results (i.e.unexpected results, unacceptable by antismoking researchers), these important studies have been systematically glossed over (i.e.not cited) in the mainstream (antismoking) literature of these last years.
The US-Syrian Centre’s director is also very active in the political field or, better said, in that of the policy of health although confusion is frequent. On several occasions over the past years, he has criticised the “authoritarian regimes” in the Arab world and it is clear that he had in mind the regime of his native country, Syria [
23]. However, he would certainly be more credible (and also avoid the accusation of hypocrisy by critics) if he had also criticised, in due time, the “authoritarian regime” of the previous US Administration. He has not. Instead, he kept writing papers designed for a neo-orientalist audience made up of “Western” media and journalists always fond of stories and “revelations” about the strange “exotic” habits in the Middle East. He and his team have rendered Arab women (defenseless since few among them can read English and respond in English in the US media) responsible for the narghile epidemic and went so far as stating in the WHO flawed report that it is common to see children smoking the narghile with their parents in the Arab World . Maziak would also be more credible if he had condemned the sudden tobacco prohibition in Syria as a “dictatorial” measure, wouldn’t he ?
Anyway, this kind of prohibition related to a societal lifestyle is antithetic to the values of Arab societies whose people have a long tradition of tolerance in this respect. Did not the first cafes in the world saw the light in the Middle East and particularly in Syria by the half of the 16 th century ?
Syrians and truth seekers of the world should encourage Bashar Al-Assad, who is also a doctor, to reconsider his decision at his earliest convenience in order to cancel the decree before popular unrest causes more problems in his country. Otherwise, we fear that critics might conclude that the US-Syrian Centre for Tobacco Studies is not anything but a Trojan horse for US tobacco prohibitionist interventionism in Syria, if not for other secret mid-term neo-conservative objectives: toppling the Syrian regime for instance… Indeed, some people might ask: how come a so-called “Syrian Centre” is managed from masterminding headquarters located in located in a remote land (
i.e.Memphis and Virginia Commonwealth Universities) ?
Syria is not Iraq. A smoking ban in public places has recently been enacted in the latter country and this is no surprise given the US occupation. Indeed, by the time the former president was ruling there, tobacco smoking prohibition as a foreign diktat would have immediately been rejected as an insult to national sovereignty. In a recent story run in the US press, one (Iraqi) character reacts to the decree banning smoking by saying: “”We want Saddam back” [
[Photo credit: P. Martin. The Globe and Mail 2009, 12 Dec]
Annex: Model of Independently Established Non-Prohibitionist Shisha Regulations
These were estbalished by the Dubai Public Health and Safety Department [
25]. Shisha outlets must be enclosed [?], and with proper ventilation system Shisha outlets must display a cautionary notice prohibiting the entry of people below the age of 20 The coal preparation area (platform) must have a mechanical exhaust system The coal must be stored in a safe place, away from inflammable materials The smoking area must be separated from the area where shisha is prepared, or tea, coffee or other food items are prepared The shisha outlets must use only disposable mouthpieces and must provide separate toilets and wash basins for men and women All the employees of shisha outlets should possess proper health cards Fire-fighting and safety equipment must be in place Decorative material, including curtains, table cloths and all items hanging from the ceilings or on the walls, should be fire-resistant The shisha cafes shall not cause any disturbance or nuisance to the residents of the area or impede the movement of the traffic
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