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UAE needs to enforce tobacco laws

Supermarkets need to train their staff better. But that's not the only solution

After tough new anti-tobacco laws came into effect on Tuesday, it is concerning to see some shops flouting the rules, particularly the regulations aimed at preventing those under the age of 18 being able to buy tobacco products. As The National reported yesterday, both the Carrefour hypermarket on Airport Road and Alam supermarket on Muroor Road sold cigarettes to Saif Al Tamimi, 16, without first asking his age, even though on one occasion he had his school satchel with him.

Although he was refused cigarettes at several Baqala convenience stores and dokha at a specialist smoking shop, the teenager’s example shows the difficult task facing the authorities to enforce the law.

The authorities must ensure there are sufficient inspections of those who sell tobacco products, thereby guaranteeing the stiff Dh10,000 fine for selling tobacco to minors acts as a proper deterrent. For retailers, particularly large supermarkets, this is an issue of making sure staff are trained appropriately and follow procedures correctly when selling tobacco products.

The new anti-tobacco law gives vendors the right to ask for proof of age, such as the Emirates ID card, without requiring them to do so in all cases. In the case of Al Tamimi, one of the shop owners had not considered his true age until money had changed hands, at which point he asked him to hand back the cigarettes. Neither of the two supermarkets bothered to ask his age, which means that adolescents who look 18 or older might get away with lying about their age or may not have their age verified at all.

The general public has a part to play in ensuring the law is enforced and young people are protected from the harm posed by tobacco products.

In Sharjah, for example, the municipality has announced a toll-free number for the public to report violations of the law. Many responsible parents would come forward and report breaches, envisaging that their own children could be among those getting access to tobacco products. The other emirates could follow suit.

Strong anti-tobacco laws will not change the smoking culture on their own. They also require consistent enforcement and absolute compliance.

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