Lebanon Country Profile

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Key Points

  • Lebanon is located on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. It is served by the World Health Organization’s Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean (EMRO).
  • It has a population of 5.5 million, with an estimated tobacco use prevalence for those aged 15 and over of 39%.
  • Lebanon ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) in 2005. It has not ratified the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products.
  • Lebanon has a state-owned tobacco monopoly, the Regie Libanaise de Tabacs et Tombacs, known as the Regie, which controls the domestic market. Transnational tobacco companies only have access to the Lebanese market through the Regie.
  • In recent years, tobacco industry lobbying has prevented the introduction of graphic health warnings; the Regie has sought to influence Lebanon’s delegation to the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the WHO FCTC; and the industry has conducted extensive corporate social responsibility activities, some of which have involved Lebanese state institutions.

Lebanon has some of the highest rates of tobacco use in the world. It is ranked third in the world for cigarette consumption per capita.1 A 2019 survey also suggested that waterpipe use prevalence is particularly high, and higher amongst women than men.2 Tobacco products were easily affordable until the start of Lebanon’s economic crisis in 2019.1 Though they have become less affordable since then, the decline in affordability has been weaker compared to that for other goods.3 At just 9.9% of the retail price, the tax imposed on tobacco products falls well short of the 75% recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).45 Though a comprehensive tobacco control law was introduced in 2011, there have been major challenges with implementation and enforcement.6

Tobacco Use in Lebanon

In 2022, the population of Lebanon was 5.5 million.7 In 2019, the WHO estimated overall tobacco use prevalence to be 39% amongst the population aged 15 and over, based on all national survey data from 1990.8 An academic study carried out in 2019 found similar results. Based on a cross-sectional household survey, it found prevalence of cigarette smoking among adults aged between 18 and 69 of just over 35% (49% males; 21.5% females).2 It also found overall waterpipe use prevalence of 39.5%, and at over 46%, prevalence for women was higher than for men (nearly 33%).2 Almost half of current cigarette smokers reported smoking more than 20 cigarettes per day, while most waterpipe users smoked at least three sessions per week.2

In 2017, Lebanon reported tobacco use among boys aged 13-15 of 35% – the highest amongst the 19 EMRO countries which carried out the Global School-based Student Health Survey between 2001 and 2018.9 The corresponding figure for Lebanese girls that year was 28%.9 A study carried out amongst Lebanese adolescents aged 11 to 18 between 2016 and 2017 found ever use of waterpipe of 34%.10

There were an estimated 7,810 deaths attributable to smoking in 2019, accounting for over 23% of all mortality in Lebanon for that year.11 A study published in 2014 put the economic burden of tobacco use in Lebanon in 2008 at US$326.7 million, or 1.1% of national GDP.12

A 2019 study on e-cigarette use amongst school and university students aged from 17 to 23 found that 14.5% reported ever use, with 8% reporting current use.13 However, at the time of writing, data on e-cigarette use amongst Lebanese adults remains scarce.

Tobacco in Lebanon

The Lebanese state tobacco monopoly

The Lebanese tobacco industry is controlled entirely by a state-owned company, the Regie Libanaise des Tabacs et Tombacs (referred to here as “the Regie”).1415 The Regie has exclusive rights to tobacco manufacturing and distribution, tobacco imports and exports, and to the purchase of locally grown tobacco leaf. It also oversees an anti-smuggling unit.16 The Regie distributes local and imported tobacco products to licensed wholesalers, at prices it determines with the Ministry of Finance (MoF).1617 These wholesalers then sell the tobacco products to retailers across Lebanon.16 Though these retailers are also licensed by the Regie, they are not under its direct control and largely depend on the wholesalers for their tobacco supply.16 The Regie sets the profit margin and weekly quota of sold tobacco for both wholesalers and retailers.16

Overseen by the MoF, the Regie’s performance has a direct impact on the public treasury.16 Not only does this provide the Regie with significant access to policy makers, it also creates conflict with other government departments (such as Health), as the MoF may oppose measures which damage the Regie’s profitability.166

Market share and leading brands

As of 2022, the Regie had a share of over 55% of the tobacco market, up from 45% in 2017.18 The leading transnational tobacco company (TTC) in Lebanon was Philip Morris International (PMI), with a market share of nearly 15%, followed by Japan Tobacco International (JTI) on over 11%, Imperial Brands on almost 10%, and British American Tobacco (BAT) on 6.5%.18

Transnational tobacco companies (TTCs) only have access to the Lebanese market via the Regie. In return for purchasing Lebanese tobacco leaf, the Regie imports manufactured tobacco products to sell on the Lebanese market and buys Virginia tobacco leaf for the manufacture of local brand cigarettes.16 Since 2016, international brands have also been made in Lebanon at Regie manufacturing facilities, as per agreements with the Big Four TTCs.19202122

The Regie brand Cedars is by far the most popular brand of cigarettes in Lebanon, with a market share of 55% in 2022.23 PMI’s Marlboro is in second place with a share of around 14%.23 JTI’s Winston is third (8%), followed by BAT’s Kent and Imperial Brands’ Gitanes (both around 5%).23 All other brands have a market share of 3% or less.23

Tobacco farming and child labour

In 2020, tobacco was being cultivated on 1.32% of Lebanon’s agricultural land.24 In 2021, tobacco production was just over 10,000 tonnes, down slightly from a high of 12,800 tonnes in 2001.25 This makes Lebanon the fifth-largest tobacco producer amongst the 14 EMRO countries for which data is available.26

Lebanese tobacco leaf is purchased exclusively by the Regie via a price support programme, under which the Regie purchases from farmers at a given yearly price and quantity which is determined by the MoF.16 According to Hamade (2014), the price paid is well over the average paid to farmers in other sectors in Lebanon; essentially, it is a subsidy which reinforces farmers’ dependence on tobacco growing and disincentivises any transition towards other crops.1416

Lebanese tobacco featured on the 2022 List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor produced by the U.S. Department of Labor.27 Tobacco production is very labour intensive and involves all or most members of the household, which includes women and children.14 On top of enduring poor wages and working conditions, female workers are also at risk of sexual violence in tobacco-growing communities.28

Tobacco and the economy

Lebanon is a net importer of raw tobacco. According to Comtrade data, in 2022, it imported over US$40.5 million in raw tobacco, compared to under US$16.4 million in exports.2930

Lebanon is also a net importer of cigarettes. In 2022, Lebanese cigarette imports were nearly US$16.5 million, compared to less than US$1 million in exports.3132

It is also a net importer of waterpipe tobacco. Its imports were worth US$17.3 million in 2022, compared to exports of under US$70,000.3334

Illicit trade

Industry documents suggest that illicit trade was used by the TTCs as a means of building market share and furthering regional expansion during the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990).35 With governance weak and legal cigarette production in decline, the TTCs flooded the Lebanese market with cheap contraband products.35 Though the government made direct appeals to these companies, requesting that they stop supplying distributors involved in this illicit trade, it had little effect.35 The documents also show that the TTCs sought to use the issue of illicit trade as leverage in negotiations on establishing manufacturing presence in the country.35

Today, reliable data on the scale of the illicit trade in Lebanon are not available. An industry-funded report by the consultancy Oxford Economics (OE) indicated that by the first quarter of 2019 the illicit trade accounted for 28.1% of the market in tobacco products.3637 However, this data may not be reliable given OE’s long relationship with the tobacco industry. Not only was this particular study funded by PMI, BAT and JTI, but also prepared according to terms of reference agreed with all three companies.37 These terms of reference are not disclosed, while the methodology used is highly susceptible to industry interference.38

Exaggerating the scale of illicit trade is a well-documented tactic which has been used by the tobacco industry all over the world as a means of opposing tobacco control regulations. See Illicit Tobacco Trade for further details.

Roadmap to Tobacco Control

Lebanon ratified the WHO FCTC in 2005.39 It has yet to ratify the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products.40

In August 2011, Lebanon passed Law No. 174, its first ever tobacco control law.6 This was the result of years of advocacy led by the National Tobacco Control Program (NTCP) (a government organisation within the Ministry of Public Health), alongside academics, tobacco control advocates, civil society organisations, local and international NGOs, and policy makers.6 Law No. 174 banned smoking in all indoor public spaces; banned tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; and introduced larger text warnings on tobacco products, with the potential to add graphic health warnings at a later date.6

However, enforcement remains a challenge, particularly regarding the provision for smokefree spaces. This measure was properly enforced for just three months, thanks in part to strong lobbying from restaurants and other establishments offering waterpipe.6 There has also been a lack of political will to enforce the law.6 In late 2012, the then Minister of the Interior implied that the police would be flexible about enforcing the law during the holiday period.41 The Ministry of Tourism also stopped enforcing the law, alleging a negative impact on Lebanon’s tourist industry and stating that it did not have the resources necessary to monitor implementation.642

For more details, please see the following websites:

Tobacco Industry Interference in Lebanon

Tobacco industry tactics in Lebanon include lobbying, which has prevented the introduction of graphic health warnings; attempting to influence Lebanon’s delegation to the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the WHO FCTC; and corporate social responsibility.

Portraying tobacco as a symbol of resistance

Part of the revenue the Regie collects from imported tobacco products is used to cover the subsidies given to tobacco growers in rural areas, particularly in the south of the country.166 Given that this area was previously occupied by Israel, keeping farmers on this land is seen by the state as an important geopolitical objective.6 Indeed, both Nassif Seklaoui, Chairman and General Manager of the Regie, and the speaker of the Lebanese parliament, have explicitly linked tobacco growing to the struggle of the Lebanese people and their resistance to foreign occupation.43 Such strategies aim to instil the belief that tobacco is a strategic industry and a source of national pride. As the opening statement of a Regie pamphlet from 2011 reads, “The tobacco crop has become a symbol of resilience, resistance and people’s attachment to the Nation’s land.”14

Influencing policy: health warnings

Law 174 significantly increased the size of the textual health warnings on tobacco products in Lebanon, from 15% to 40% of the principal surface areas.644 A further decree in 2012 defined the text of the warnings, though implementation was delayed, reportedly due the Regie lobbying the Minister of Finance.4546 Since then, the larger text warnings have been widely implemented – though the measure still falls short of the 50% or more coverage recommended by the WHO FCTC.4748

Law 174 did also allow for the introduction of graphic health warnings (GHWs) at a later date, subject to the signing of an implementation decree by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Finance.47 According to Lebanese tobacco control advocates, of all provisions in Law 174, this was the hardest to obtain, due to fierce opposition from the tobacco industry, including the Regie.46 During discussions on Law 174 in 2011, some members of the Lebanese parliament objected to the inclusion of GHWs, echoing industry positions on the issue.46 Though the implementation decree for GHWs was elaborated in 2011 and updated in 2016, it has still not been approved, reportedly due to industry interference and lobbying.47 As of 2021, GHWs had yet to be implemented.49

Interacting with the Lebanese delegation to the COP

In 2018, the Regie hosted a meeting attended by six government officials at its headquarters, ahead of the Eighth Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP8) to the WHO FCTC. In the Regie’s own words, the meeting aimed to define a position that “addresses the threats that the items on COP8 agenda for next October pose to tobacco sector”.50 There was also a presentation laying out the Regie’s positions on decisions made at the previous COP, as well as the proposals to be discussed at COP8.50

Delivering this presentation, Mariam Hariri, the Regie’s Head of General Management, stated:

“We cannot look at tobacco sector only from the perspective of health damage; we must rather look at it with a comprehensive and impartial view. We must take into consideration the economic benefits it offers and the specificity of Lebanon.”50

This meeting contravened the implementation guidelines for Article 5.3 of the WHO FCTC, which urge parties to limit interactions with the tobacco industry to those strictly necessary for effective regulation of the industry and its products.51

The Regie has also lobbied foreign diplomats. In May 2022, the German ambassador to Beirut visited Regie headquarters in Hadath. He was briefed on “the Regie’s achievements in agricultural, industrial, and commercial fields, among others, as well as about the societal role that it had played during the recent years.”52

Corporate social responsibility

In 2016, the Regie launched its sustainable development plan, entitled “Development Vision for a Brighter Tomorrow”. Its stated aim was “promoting economic development, environment protection, fighting illicit trade & child labor, and improving the living of workers & farmers and the communities where we operate.”43 The plan was launched at a ceremony which was supported by the speaker in the Lebanese parliament, and attended by notable figures from business, politics, finance and the trade union movement.43 These included senior civil servants from government departments including the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Economy and Lebanese customs.43

Since then, the Regie has conducted extensive CSR activities, including some directed at or involving Lebanese state institutions. For example, it donated US$2.6 million to the Lebanese Army in 2021.16 It also engaged in CSR during the COVID-19 pandemic, donating US$1 million to the Lebanese government to support repatriating Lebanese students abroad and to buy ventilators for COVID-19 patients.53

The Regie has also organised “women empowerment training sessions” for the daughters of tobacco farmers in different areas of Lebanon. These sessions had the support of local authorities; for example, some were held in municipal buildings or involved the participation of local councillors.5455

The Regie has also carried out CSR in partnership with TTCs. In 2017, in an initiative financed by PMI Lebanon, the Regie offered scholarships to 136 children of tobacco farmers in the north of the country – the fourth consecutive year it had done so.56

Relevant Links

Tobacco Tactics Resources

TCRG Research

For a comprehensive list of all TCRG publications, including research that evaluates the impact of public health policy, go to TCRG publications.

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