Under Islamic State’s brutal reign, strict standards of behavior and beheadings have become commonplace.
Last month, a severed head belonging to an ISIS deputy police chief was found in the city of Al-Mayadeen in eastern Syria. What made the severed head unusual was the cigarette placed between its lips.
Above the man’s corpse, someone wrote in Arabic “This is not permissible, Sheikh,” according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reported by the Los Angeles Times.
According to the World Health Organization, half of Syrian men smoke, but that hasn’t stopped ISIS from shutting down tobacco shops. Smoking is allowed under Islam, but some conservative interpretations of Sharia law maintain that it’s a slow suicide and therefore forbidden.
"I'm enjoying it while I can," said Mohammad Khalil, smoking near the border of Turkey and Syria - close to where ISIS has taken over. “Once I go across (the border into Syria) I can't smoke in the open.”
An official with the Aid Coordination Unit, a Syrian opposition group that sends supplies into Syria said, "Whenever they approach an Islamic State checkpoint, our drivers switch the music to Islamic nasheed [chant] and throw any cigarettes they have out the window.”
People who are caught smoking by ISIS face a minimum punishment of 40 lashes with a whip. Subsequent offenses mean smokers could face prison time and, in some cases, execution.
"There is a lot of smuggling going on,” said Abu Mohammed, a Raqqa-based activist who used a pseudonym. "There are many ways to do it.” Smugglers can hide their wares in cans, sacks of flour or bags of flatbread. One smuggler even trained carrier pigeons to fly cigarettes into the city of Raqqa.
"In the past you would pay 50 Syrian pounds ($1) for a pack of Gaulouises Red,” Mohammed said. “Now you pay 150 [Syrian pounds], and some times you can't even find it.”
Now, inferior tobacco has infiltrated the market. "People are forced to buy them anyway,” he said. "It's something that is important.”