DUBAI // A thick cloud of smoke fills cafes near residential areas in Dubai's Abu Hail community.
Customers spend their lunch break leisurely smoking flavoured shisha. Confined indoors by a municipality ban, they hold animated conversations in haze of smoke.
From January 1, 2009, the authority placed restrictions on shisha cafes. They could remain in mixed residential and commercial areas, but customers could not smoke outside.
Cafes in commercial or tourist areas could continue to operate and customers could smoke outside if the owner secured a special permit. All cafes were ordered to have adequate ventilation systems and at least 1,500 square feet of space.
Sharm El Sheikh cafe in Hor Al Anz, which has almost 400 smokers a day, spent more than Dh120,000 on modifications.
"They told us to stop serving shisha outside and we moved it inside," said Walid Ameen Rashid, the owner. "However, we are still confused about whether there is an extended deadline or if they want us to close. Sometimes they come to give us a warning and sometimes they say they don't have an idea what's happening."
Mr Rashid said the federal law could affect more businesses such as his. "The federal law is beneficial for the country, indeed, but they didn't look at what will happen to us. Will they compensate us?"
Another cafe manager said the modifications required by the municipality had come at a price.
"It costs us a fortune to make the changes," he said. "We had to put in special ventilation, allot a separate room for charcoal and a special storage area for shisha devices."
An Emirati customer said the ban may be good for non-smokers, but was causing him more harm.
"It is a bit more healthy when we sit in the open," said Amer Ibrahim, a shisha smoker for the past 15 years. "I cough much more because I am inhaling others' smoke now."
But Wajeh Hassan, an Egyptian smoker, welcomed the move to restrict cafes. "Sitting in the open is better for me, of course," said Mr Hassan, who smokes shisha at least twice every day. "But it is not good for others who are walking on the street. It is good to have regulations."
* additional reporting by Amna Al Haddad