AL AIN // Angry smokers are hitting out at a crackdown on lighting up in malls and cafes.
Smoking has been banned in public places for four years but the rule is widely flouted.
A team of 50 municipality inspectors will now start enforcing the law and dish out Dh500 fines to repeat offenders.
At first they will only inform people of the rules before issuing penalties.
But Nabeel Bu Hamzah, who smokes a midwakh, a small Arabic pipe, objects to the ban in cafes.
“This is a good hangout for us, where we meet friends and chat with coffee and midwakh,” he said. “It’s too costly to fine us Dh500 here for a puff. Then where we would go for smoking?”
He was not concerned about the effects of second-hand smoke in enclosed spaces.
“I don’t think so. Why would authorities allow coffee shops inside malls then? They should keep it outside the mall,” he said.
Emirati Ahmed Al Nuwaimi was smoking his midwakh while sitting with friends at Starbucks in Al Jimi Mall.
“This is the only place where we can hang out and smoke with a cup of coffee, otherwise standing outside under the sun is impossible,” he said.
“I know about the law and it’s wrong to smoke here but it’s only a puff, which lasts less than five seconds and it’s not like cigarettes.”
Egyptian Fadhil Hassan Mohammed, who was also at Al Jimi Mall, said: “Coffee shops across the world offer facilities to smoke while sipping a cup of coffee but barring smoking and fining people I don’t think is a good move. The fine is too much.”
Al Ain Municipality said last week it would send inspectors to the city’s malls, cafes and offices as part of a drive to ensure smokers adhere to the ban, which was set out in a 2009 federal anti-smoking law.
Refusing to respond to requests to stop will result in a Dh500 fine, and failure to pay is grounds for prosecution. If a case goes to court, an offender could end up paying between Dh3,000 and Dh10,000, according to Ahmed Sarhan, head of the regulations enforcement section at Al Ain Municipality.
Inspectors will also inform smokers about the dangers of inhaling cigarette smoke and the diseases it can cause, while offering solutions that could help them quit.
“This is the first phase of enforcement of this law so, deliberately, we do not intend to fine people but we want to make them aware of the risk involved,” Mr Sarhan said.
The National visited Al Jimi Mall and Al Ain Mall and found dozens of people smoking midwakh at various coffee shops, although no one was smoking cigarettes.
Al Jimi Mall’s security supervisor, Abdul Azeem, said: “I have instructed all security personnel deployed at the different points of the mall to immediately approach a person who tries to smoke inside a coffee shop or the mall.
“The problem is that most people smoke midwakh, so when we approach them, the job is almost done because they take a long puff and it’s over.
“Customers say, ‘OK, see, I am not smoking, it’s over’.”
Ahmed Saleh, manager of Starbucks, said: “We ask the person to stop smoking but if he persists, we inform the security guard or the municipality.
“I don’t think we would lose any business [from the enforcement of the ban] as we have a good set-up outside the mall where our customers can sit and smoke and it’s allowed there.”
Despite smokers’ negative reactions, some people are pleased about the crackdown.
“These moves are good to educate people not to smoke but fines should just be on cigarettes, not midwakh, ” said Noman Al Khatiri, a young Emirati.
Raees Sharaf, from Lebanon, also welcomed the move.
“It would be better if it’s restricted as smoke travels all around the malls and non-smokers get affected,” he said.
“I don’t smoke but I love a cappuccino, so I come here despite the smoke.”