Dubai smokers back Ministry of Health smoking measures

Many malls, indoor restaurants and public places already prohibit smoking, so smaller, independent shops could be hardest hit under the new guidelines.

Men smoke shisha at a cafe in Abu Hail, Dubai. Businesses will have to get used to the latest regulations. Jaime Puebla / The National
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DUBAI // Business may be booming for shisha cafes but that could end under tough new anti-tobacco laws.

Guidelines will ban smoking in all buildings, as well as introduce restrictions on how tobacco products are sold in shops.

Restaurants and cafes will have to rethink where customers can light up under the Ministry of Health plan.

Shisha sales make up about 40 per cent of trade at Set Widad in Dubai Internet City. Operations manager Tarek Lababidi, 27, has applied for a licence to comply with the new regulations but said the changes will be hard to halt a 150-year tradition.

“Shisha is very popular here,” he said. “It is related to the culture and is something that has been enjoyed for a long time.

“Restaurants have always provided smoking and non-smoking areas. Licences will not be given to everyone who applies as they want to reduce shisha smoking.”

Mr Lababidi, who moved here from Syria two and a half years ago, would like to see an annual fee paid by proprietors to the government to help reduce the number of shisha outlets.

“This would benefit the government as well,” he said.

Licences are granted only if certain criteria are met, including minimum floor space and distance from schools, mosques and living areas.

It is hoped the changes will also improve safety in residential areas by reducing fire risk.

Smoker Isabelle Durand, who moved from France to Dubai eight years ago with her two young children, backs the measures.

“Attitudes are changing towards smoking here,” she said. “Encouraging people to smoke is silly and the industry makes billions of dollars.

“Any steps taken to reduce the health risk is a good thing.”

The sale, promotion or advertising of tobacco products will now come under tight restrictions. And cafes and restaurants will no longer be allowed to provide ashtrays for customers. No-smoking signs must also be displayed.

Businesses will be advised to provide a comment box for public feedback on the changes and those backing a national campaign against smoking can register their support on the Ministry of Health website.

Anti-smoking measures will apply to all public buildings, as well as company vehicles.

Ms Durand, however, thinks educating people on the dangers of smoking, whether cigarettes, shisha or medwakh, is even more important.

“Education on the health implications is more important than prohibiting smoking,” she said.

“It is bizarre that e-cigarettes are banned in the UAE when people can smoke tobacco in some restaurants and shisha pipes around children.”

Samer Abdin quit smoking in May. He supports a tobacco advertising ban but said putting up the price of cigarettes would help to deter smoking in the UAE even further.

“If a packet of cigarettes in Dubai cost Dh40, people would soon think twice about smoking,” he said, adding: “An outdoor smoking area is fine but it can be annoying if the tables are close together, particularly as I’m an ex-smoker.

“An advertising ban is a done deal everywhere else in the world so it is right they are stopping it here.”

nwebster@thenational.ae