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School-Smoking Rules Get Hazy in Jordan

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Editor’s Note: Education Week Assistant Editor Mary Ann Zehr is on assignment in Jordan to report on the education system of this strategically located country in the Middle East. During her two-week visit, which began April 1, she will also be filing occasional reports for edweek.org.

I'm struck by the seemingly wide acceptance of cigarette smoking in Jordan—even inside school buildings.

I noticed on visits to two girls' secondary schools this week that male education officials who were visiting the schools to accompany me lit up cigarettes inside the buildings. They smoked only in the principals' offices. But as far as I could tell, they didn't ask the principals for permission. The principals, who were both women, were not smoking at the time.

They didn't ask me if I wanted to smoke, which suited me just fine. For those men, drinking strong coffee, sitting and talking, and having a cigarette seemed to go together. It's acceptable in Jordanian society for the principal's office to be a smoking lounge, I concluded. I recalled how cigarette smoke used to seep out from behind the swinging door to the teachers' lounge in my own secondary school. And my 6th grade teacher often slipped down to the furnace room in the basement of my elementary school to have a cigarette.

But then I got a different impression from Haifa Horani, the principal of the Iskan Al-Jamea Secondary Comprehensive School here in Amman.

She said she doesn't allow anyone to smoke in her office. The subject came up because she's piloting in her school an online health curriculum that includes an extensive unit on the hazards of cigarette smoking. The curriculum was developed by the World Health Organization and Cisco Systems Inc., of San José, Calif., and has been adapted for Middle Eastern students.

Students in grades 8-11 in the 955-student school have a 45-minute health lesson each week on top of the required countrywide curriculum designed by the Ministry of Education. Ms. Horani took me to a computer lab, where 11 girls had assembled to show me the curriculum.

I remarked to them that I'd gotten the impression that many Jordanian men but not many Jordanian women smoke. I was thinking of all the men I'd seen light up cigarettes in the baggage-claim section of the airport after my Royal Jordanian airlines flight landed. I hadn't seen women smoking there. And so far, I'd only seen men smoke in the schools.

I just hadn't been out enough in Jordanian society, a man who was with us told me. "You'll see Jordanian women smoking in restaurants," he said.

Three of the 11 students in the lab said their mothers smoke. They didn't know any girls their age who do. One girl said she liked the graphics in the online curriculum because it helps her remember the message that smoking isn't good for your health.

On that same day, I found myself interviewing a principal of a high school for boys through a haze of smoke from his cigarette.

I asked him if he permits any of the 1,300 young men in his school to smoke on campus. He doesn't, he said. And he added that while at school, he confines his smoking to his office.

Back at my hotel, I eat dinner earlier than is the custom here. That's my way of savoring the flavors of the fresh vegetables, meats, and side dishes here without having the experience tainted with second-hand smoke.

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