SHARJAH // Cigarettes can still be bought in supermarkets and grocery stores in residential areas around the emirate despite a ban by the municipality.
Several shops in the Al Nabba, Al Khan, Al Qassimia, Al Leyyah and Shuwaykhen neighbourhoods are selling cigarettes under the counter after being told in April to take them down from display shelves.
"We are just trying to finish all the stock we had and then we shall give up on cigarettes," said a grocery attendant in Al Qassimia, who had various brands of cigarettes packed into one large box. "We agree with the municipality about the health risks but we need time to finish our stock."
The municipality ban also made the sale of cigarettes near schools illegal. The decision was aimed at preventing youngsters from taking up the habit, as well as reducing smoking among adults.
Rasha Al Qassimi, the assistant director general of the department of health at Sharjah Municipality, said the thinking behind the move was very clear.
"We try to limit the sale of cigarettes, especially near schools, and we ask the public to help in achieving this objective by reporting all violations they come across in these areas," she said.
Ms Al Qassimi said the municipality was the first authority to put controls on cigarettes in residential areas and public places.
An inspection campaign for shops and supermarkets is planned.
A shop attendant in Al Nabba said he agreed that cigarettes should not be sold to minors, but an outright ban in all residential areas was detrimental to business and a hassle for adults who choose to keep smoking.
"There are smokers in residential areas so there is demand for cigarettes in these areas," he said. "Once there is a demand and a ban then the supply to satisfy the demand goes undercover."
A shop attendant in Al Leyyah said children would come to the shop and ask to buy cigarettes by pretending they are for their parents.
"Verifying if the child is genuinely doing the purchase for the father or mother is not an easy task," he said.
"Sometimes we turn down children and the parents would come quarrelling."
The attendant said staff now asked any youngsters who came to the store for their parents' phone number.
They then called the parent and asked them not to send their child again.
The ban in Sharjah is part of a series of anti-tobacco measures aimed at tackling smoking in the UAE.
A federal law on tobacco control was introduced in early 2009 and partly phased in during 2011.
It bans the sale of tobacco to people under 18; smoking in cars in the presence of children under 12; smoking in houses of worship, educational institutes and health or sports facilities; and selling sweets resembling tobacco products.
Other regulations cover smoking in shopping centres and shisha cafes near residential areas.