Smokers face fines for flouting mall ban

Al Ain inspectors will begin issuing warnings to individuals caught lighting up in a change from the current policy targeting premises.

AL AIN // Defiant smokers lighting up in Al Ain's shopping malls will soon face fines, health officials have announced. Previously, if inspectors caught someone smoking in a cafe or restaurant, they would fine the owners of the commercial establishment and in the city's malls security guards have been powerless to make smokers step outside.

The decision to fine smokers follows discussions between Dr Salem al Kaabi, the manager of the muncipality's public health department, and managers at Al Ain Mall, Al Jimi Mall and Bawadi Mall last week, the health officials said. "In the past, if someone was seen by inspectors smoking at Starbucks, then Starbucks would be fined," said Wael el Barbary, Al Jimi Mall's manager. "But what's going to start happening is that the individual smoking will be fined, and not the business."

Security officers at the mall can currently only ask patrons to stop smoking, but are unable to enforce the law. "Even if we were to call the police, we would be told that smoking does not fall under their responsibility, but the responsibility of the municipality's health inspectors," Mr el Barbary said. At Al Jimi Mall, it is the responsibility of security guards to tell customers to stop smoking, said one security guard who asked that he not be named. Their requests rarely go down well.

"Non-Arab security guards get told off all the time," he said. "People tell them it's none of their business, or shout at them or threaten them. So they get scared and just decide to ignore the problem. But when an Egyptian asks them to stop smoking, they usually do." The security guard recalled an incident in which a young man from a prominent family became verbally and physically abusive when told to stop smoking by an Indian security guard.

"The police were called and escorted the man out of the mall and arrested him," said the guard. "He wasn't arrested for smoking, but because he was violent." One 18-year-old seen smoking a dokha inside Bawadi Mall argued that the ban was unreasonable in summer months. "I had just eaten, and I wanted to smoke," he said. "It's too far to go outside and it's hot out there. Besides, smoking dokha only takes a couple of seconds and it doesn't smell as bad as a cigarette."

He wants the malls to create designated smoking areas, like the ones in airports. Dr Salem al Kaabi confirmed that health inspectors would be granted the new powers. "We are waiting for the non-smoking policy rules and regulations to arrive from the Executive Council before we start enforcing the new law," he said. "Once we have the regulations in hand, we will begin an awareness campaign. Initially our inspectors will issue a number of warnings but as time progresses, fines will be levied."

In a case where health inspectors have seen a crime committed, they would either issue a warning or a fine. If a fine is issued, the offender's identification is confiscated and a summons is issued. The offender then has to appear before a municipal judge to whom he can plead his case. The amount of the fine is determined by the municipality's prosecutor.