ABU DHABI // Health chiefs have been urged to persuade shopping-mall cafe and restaurant owners that a ban on smoking need not lead to tumbling profits.
A no-smoking policy must not be viewed by business owners as a hindrance, said Dr Sara Karrar, a senior officer in cardiovascular and metabolic diseases at the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi.
They should be aware that a total ban does not have to have a negative effect on profits, she said, adding that shopping malls in Dubai have implemented a smoking ban without a law fully in place.
"We need to sit down and have the conversation with them," said Dr Karrar, who works in the public health and policy department.
The ban was established in the capital on July 1. At the end of that month the Department of Economic Development, with support from Abu Dhabi Municipality, began to impose on-the-spot fines on cafes and restaurants in malls that failed to adhere to the new rules.
Out of roughly 80 outlets, almost half allowed their customers to smoke. Two were fined of Dh3,000, but many cafe and restaurant owners still took the view that no smoking equals no customers.
Although most businesses try to comply, said said Dr Karrar, "just one" refusing can create a trickle effect.
A manager of one cafe in Marina Mall said the difference in business was clear to see, with queues of people waiting outside a shisha cafe that allows smoking, leaving non-smoking rivals unable to compete.
Not enforcing the ban equally was also a problem, said the manager, whose cafe was fined last month. "It was not implemented across the malls all at one time. They started to target certain malls.
"We asked them, why have you targeted Marina Mall before Abu Dhabi Mall, and they said, 'We don't have enough people to go after them all.'
"I said it is not my problem, either you implement it the right way or you wait until you have the right number of people."
Other businesses have also found a lack of support from authorities frustrating.
"Business has dropped too much," said another cafe manager. "I can't tell you how much it has gone down but it is more than 50 per cent."
After being fined aDh3,000 a few days before Ramadan, his cafe was forced to ban smoking.
"We spoke to the mall but they don't do anything. They say it's not their decision. Nobody can talk."
Maan, 21, a student, at Al Hosn University, said a cafe's smoking policy determined where he took his business.
"When I'm deciding on a place to eat it's absolutely crucial it has a smoking section. I like to be able to smoke.
"It's very important to me to be able to smoke while I wait for my food, or after a meal with a cup of coffee."
The traditionally quiet month of Ramadan may have compounded fears of a drop in custom, but business will pick up for venues that go smoke-free, insisted Dr Karrar.
"Authorities should consider sitting down with the management teams of the various malls and teach them how to work with cafe and restaurant owners who do not want to abide by the rules."
But for outlets to comply, authorities need to address their issues, said a cafe owner.
"We agree to the decision made by the President of the country, that's fine, and we have to implement it, but they have to look at the consequences of the damage to businesses. It's as simple as that."