In what many see as an effort to placate angry, cash-strapped voters, last month the government approved lowering the minimum price of cigarettes, which are publicly regulated, to help manufacturers better compete with cigarettes smuggled over the border from Syria. The price for a pack of domestically made Marlboros dropped by 20 percent in December, from 1.8 Jordanian dinars to 1.4, and by the first week in January the prices of all locally made cigarettes had been slashed, reversing a trend from recent years in which Jordan's government raised taxes on cigarettes. A comparable pack of smuggled Syrian cigarettes costs 2.25 dinars.
Not everyone is buying it.
"Some people are suckers for that, you know? The economy is bad," says Madian Al Jazeera, the owner of Books@Cafe, a bar and bookstore where business is down as much as 40 percent since the gas price hikes, as Jordanians tighten their budgets. "Look around. No one is smiling. You don’t see the smiles, you see the spite in the street. People are on edge."
The government decision has also raised the hackles of the health ministry and other public health advocates for promoting smoking. The ministry opposed the decision on the grounds that it violated a World Health Organization convention on tobacco control.
The unpopular gas price hikes were adopted at the request of the International Monetary Fund, which made them a condition for the Jordanian government to receive $2 billion in IMF aid to avert an economic collapse.