Beaches could get indoor smoking areas

Municipality chiefs are considering introducing indoor smoking areas on Dubai's beaches and in parks.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - August 7:  Sherbahader, a labourer from Pakistan, enjoys a cigarette during the mid-day break at the Jumeirah beach in Dubai on August 7, 2008.  (Randi Sokoloff / The National) *** Local Caption ***  RS007-SMOKING.jpg
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DUBAI // Municipality chiefs are considering introducing indoor smoking areas on Dubai's beaches and in parks as part of plans to prevent people lighting up in public. Ahmad Al Shammari, the director of the Public Health Department at Dubai Municipality, said that designated zones would be set aside for smokers in open-air public areas such as Jumeirah Open Beach and Safa Park.

"There will be areas for smokers still within these areas and one option will be to have indoor areas," he said. "But the committee will meet and decide exactly what will happen very soon. "You can't completely stop everyone from smoking. Just like shopping malls now have special smoking areas, similar areas would be provided at all places where the smoking ban is imposed." Mr Shammari added that it was too early to say if or when other smoking bans would be brought in, such as on the street or in bars.

"The committee will decide what is next, but with regard to smoking on the street, if you look at Europe that still goes on," he said. "Fines will be given for leaving cigarette stubs, as with any litter." Abu Dhabi Municipality yesterday confirmed a smoking ban would be introduced within two months, covering all public places in the capital. Three of the five main malls in Abu Dhabi have already introduced partial smoking bans.

On Jumeirah Open beach in Dubai yesterday, meanwhile, many people welcomed the idea. "The cleaners get loads of cigarette butts all over the beach each day," said a lifeguard. "This is not good for families who come here to enjoy the beach. I have even seen children play with cigarette butts instead of the sand." Erna Baines, a legal secretary from South Africa who has been a smoker for 28 years, said: "Banning smoking outdoors is nonsense, really. As long as smokers act responsibly and pick up their butts, I don't see what the problem is, it's outdoors.

"I think smokers should stop being treated like lepers. It is a disgusting habit, but there should be some sort of freedom provided we act responsibly." John Flaherty, who has been in Dubai for three years and who quit smoking in April, said: "I'm glad they've banned smoking indoors in places like malls and some restaurants, but somebody smoking at the beach wouldn't bother me that much, apart from the discarded cigarette butts that seem to be everywhere."

Banning smoking on beaches and in parks is the latest stage in Dubai Municipality's commitment to make the city smoke-free. Initially banned in all government offices and shopping malls, smoking became outlawed in all hotels and restaurants last year. On July 1 this year, the ban was extended to all entertainment and recreation venues, such as pool and snooker centres, internet cafes and computer-game arcades. Shisha cafes in residential areas have received final warnings to shut down and relocate.

The municipality has also signed a deal with the Dubai Sports Council to regulate smoking at clubs and stadiums. So far, 25 restaurants have been fined between Dh5,000 (US$1,360) to Dh10,000 for violating the smoking ban. However, no individual has been fined so far as most have been let off with a warning. Cutting the number of smokers in the country has become a top priority for health officials - particularly among children. A Ministry of Health study revealed a quarter of those aged between 12 and 16 in the UAE were full-time smokers.

The United Arab Emirates Global Youth Tobacco Survey, carried out by the Ministry of Health, polled all high-school children. Aside from the 24.9 per cent of regular child smokers, a further 22.4 per cent had tried some form of tobacco at least once, with 10 per cent trying cigarettes. The report has caused such concern among officials that a series of tough new laws and antismoking camps aimed at children will be launched this year.

A 2002 World Health Organisation report said GCC countries were seen by tobacco companies as a prime market because the Middle East was more tolerant to smoking. In June, a new fatwa warning people to obey recent anti-tobacco laws declared that smoking in public places was forbidden under Islam because it harmed others.