Shisha ban must be enforced

Despite law being introduced more than one year ago, hookah smoke is still in the air

There is plenty of conjecture but little conclusive evidence about whether shisha is the lesser of two evils when it comes to smoking. In fact, many who quit cigarettes in the region take up shisha as their "weaning" mechanism, saying a "head" a day – which can be smoked over up to two hours depending on how much fun you’re having – remains better than a pack of cigarettes.

Then there are those who say that flavoured tobacco – or muassel in Arabic – is even worse than regular tobacco and so advocate sticking to the traditional stuff since the water doesn’t strip out toxic substances like cigarette filters do.

But even though we still lack a definitive study and conclusive evidence on the harmful effects of shisha, that debate should be immaterial when it comes to enforcing the ban on shisha cafes operating within 150 metres of residential areas, schools and mosques.

Many such places continue to break the rules, much to the dismay of residents with children who end up inhaling it on the way in and out of their buildings.

But cafe owners argue that getting rid of the hookah on their menus would be so detrimental to revenues that they would possibly shut down.

Another issue is that some consider shisha an intrinsic part of Arab culture and so abolishing it may cause offence.

Regardless of the dilemma owners would have if it finally takes effect – which could force them either to relocate to make up for lost money if the ban is enforced or shut down altogether – a definitive stance is needed on a topic that has lingered like bad smoke for far too long.

The law either needs to be enforced or revisited. And if it stays, authorities must ensure that regulations are implemented and hold business owners to account if they flout the laws. Non-enforcement should not be an excuse for breaking the law, especially when second-hand smoke and the welfare of our children are concerned.