SHARJAH // A ban on selling cigarettes in grocery shops in Sharjah will apply only to outlets in purely residential areas, the municipality said yesterday.
The clarification of the ban, announced by Sharjah Municipal Council on Wednesday, means that while it will cover areas such as Al Rigga and Al Azra - which consist almost exclusively of villas and town houses - it will not be implemented in areas such as Al Khan, Al Qasimia and Al Qasba, where there are scores of residential high-rise towers, but also some commercial outlets.
The ban will also apply to grocery shops in the vicinity of schools, but the authority is yet to decide exactly which outlets will be affected.
The municipality said it would consider expanding the scope of the ban depending on how it was received.
"For now, the ban will be implemented in purely residential areas. In commercial areas it is more complicated to provide exact criteria for what counts as a small grocery shop," said Thabet Al Taraifi, general secretary of the Sharjah Municipal Council.
"This is the first step but the move will be evaluated and its results will be analysed and, depending on its success, it could be extended to include all grocery shops in the emirate."
In its current form the ban is thought to affect hundreds of grocery shops, yet many shop owners said yesterday that they had not been notified about it.
Shahed Parakand, a grocery salesman in Al Rigga, said any ban would be bad for business.
"The ban would reduce my sales by 35 per cent - not only because of the cigarettes, but because many customers who come for cigarettes end up buying others things like chocolate, chips and drinks."
The move was the latest initiative in a series of measures by the Government, at local and federal levels, to deter children from taking up smoking.
The federal law on tobacco control was introduced in early 2009 and partially phased in during 2011. It bans the sale of tobacco products to people under 18; smoking in cars in the presence of children under 12; smoking in places of worship, educational institutes and health or sports facilities; and selling sweets resembling tobacco products.
However, the municipality said many retailers flout the law.
"The practice of children buying cigarettes is ongoing despite the law banning the selling of cigarettes to those under the age of 18. Therefore, the solution is to remove [cigarettes] completely from the shops," said Mr Al Taraifi.
Many residents claim they have often seen teenagers buying cigarettes from grocery shops, sometimes a single cigarette.
"Shops still sell to children despite the law," said Hussein Eisa, 20, who started smoking four years ago. "I myself used to buy from these shops. If teenagers did not have the option of buying, it would make it harder for them to get a hold of cigarettes."
Parents welcomed the ban. "It is a great move, especially because there are many young people who have not understood the risks of smoking. For them, smoking is a sign of manhood and to take up smoking is a challenge they are proud of," said Fadel Hassan, a father of three.
Some shop owners said that as there was already a law banning selling cigarettes to children, no further ban should be needed.
"What is the point of the ban if there is already a law against selling to children?" asked Asfrah Abdul Al Rahman, a grocery owner in Al Rigga. However, he added: "If they want the cigarettes out I will take them out, but only after the municipality notifies me to do so."
Yesterday, a 10-year-old boy was spotted by The National buying cigarettes in a grocery shop in Al Khan, an area not covered by the new ban. The shop owner said the boy in question was buying them for his father.