By NBF News

By Yolande Knell
BBC News, Cairo
For many Egyptians, smoking is a way of life and a pleasure

Egypt, the biggest Arab consumer of cigarettes, is beginning an attempt to ban smoking in public places.

Alexandria is to be Egypt's first no smoking city, beginning with a ban on lighting up in government buildings.

Egyptians smoke some 19 billion cigarettes each year, prompting concerns for public health.

And Egypt is a nation of smokers with traditional shisha water pipes found in many coffee shops, and persuading Egyptians to quit will be a challenge.

It is common to find people puffing at cigarettes on the train, in office, even in hospitals.

Now in Alexandria that is set to change. The local authorities first plan to enforce an existing law – one that is usually flouted – prohibiting smoking in government buildings.

They say that within two years, the ban will be extended to include cafes.

Dr Hassan Salam from the University of Alexandria is heading the research.

“Smoking in Egypt is very common, unfortunately. Out of every 10 men, four smoke and more and more women are smoking now.

“The statistics show that Egyptians smoke about 19 billion cigarettes a year. It's a big public health problem.”

Bans on smoking in public places have now been successfully introduced around the world. But officials admit it will be a particular challenge to force Egyptians to quit.

They hope new restrictions will at least make them cut back – and that Alexandria can set an example for the rest of the country.