DUBAI // By-laws which could regulate the sale of cigarettes in shops near schools, ban smoking in some indoor areas and decide which shisha cafes are licensed, are to be voted on by the Health Council early next month.
The laws, which should have come into effect by the end of last year, will clarify the enforcement of federal anti-tobacco law No 15, issued in early 2009 by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE.
Dr Wedad al Maidoor, the head of the National Tobacco Control Committee, said the by-laws were pending official approval because further steps had to be taken before smoking bans take effect in coming months.
The delay in drafting the by-laws was unavoidable, said Dr al Maidoor. "We have been in continuous meetings with all the concerned authorities and all the partners who must be included in drafting the by-laws, trying to find the best solutions," she said. "We are almost done and in the final phase."
Government departments involved in submitting proposals on what rules and regulations the law should address include the Ministry of Health, the various health authorities, Civil Defence, the municipalities and the Ministry of Economy.
Dr al Maidoor did not expect concerns or complaints about the by-laws to be lodged. That had already been dealt with, she said.
"The Health Council has to approve all laws. If the by-laws do not meet with opposition, the by-laws continue on to the Federal National Council. Within a few months, we can finalise this and start enforcing the laws," she said.
Salem bin Mesmar, the assistant director general for the environment, health and safety control sector at Dubai Municipality, said smoking was a global crisis that needed immediate action.
Drafting the by-laws, he said, "was not an easy task". "The Ministry of Health wants smoking all over UAE to be regulated and this law needs an appendix which explains the law in more detail and highlights the technical requirements."
The details that had to be ironed out related to smoking, tobacco and packaging, he said.
"All over the world there is an increase of smokers, especially in the Third World and the Middle East - even in young people - and one reason for this is because companies invest heavily on advertisements," Mr Mesmar said.
This month, Britain announced plans to enforce strict laws banning the display of cigarette packages behind cash counters from April 2012 in large shops and by 2015 for all others. The UK government aims to change social behaviour by considering a push for unbranded, plain packages.
Mr Mesmar said similar laws could come into force in the UAE. "The new rule on box advertising is coming here and we will deal with it on a GCC level," he said.
"We would like to see the advertising on the box drop down to zero."
In 2007, the Dubai Government approached the municipality to regulate smoking in shopping malls. Following discussions with the Shopping Mall Council, Dubai Festival City became the first smoke-free mall in the city.
"For phase two, we regulated smoking in hotels while working with the Dubai Tourism Authority. In phase three, we concentrated on cafes and restaurants, where we started with shisha, because the Government did not like it expanding," said Mr Mesmar.
Business owners were given one year to follow the rules, but due to the financial crisis, cases were sometimes reviewed separately under special circumstances.
"Some smokers use the excuse for continuing the habit that there is too much pressure in the world and they believe it offers stress relief. Believe me, nobody who truly understands its effects will smoke."
Dr al Maidoor said a large part of the drafted by-laws were concerned with enforcement, so that the burden was divided equally between government and private departments.
"Really, the law as it stands is quite clear and everyone should be enforcing it already. They definitely will once it is official - printed in the official gazette."
The World Health Organisation reports that in addition to the five million people who die annually from smoking - six every second - at least 600,000 more die from second-hand, passive smoking.
Dr Amira Elsayed, a consultant family physician at a Dubai clinic, said it was not enough to pass the law if it was not going to be implemented swiftly.
"Implementing it can help improve the health of people here. Second-hand smoking is a serious threat to people's health," she said.