x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Antismoking law trumps objections

"Business interests" must not be allowed to subvert legislation for the public good, as has clearly happened in the case of the antismoking law.

The news that the antismoking law is being delayed by "business interests" raises questions about the legislation process. As is the case around the world, a period of consultation with all sides that might be affected should precede any legislation.

In this case, comments from officials make it sound like this was not so. "There are a lot of interests, and there are big companies today and a lot of other things that come into effect," said Dr Mahmoud Fikri, a Ministry of Health official. "When it came to implementation, affected businesses did not all agree."

When the law, which bans smoking in many public spaces across the country and controls the import and advertising of tobacco products, was passed last year, businesses including shisha cafes were given one year to adjust. The one-year deadline has passed without the law being enforced despite the obvious public-health ramifications.

To be sure, there are other factors that come into play besides business interests. Red tape is always a factor in the implementation of a new law. As The National reported earlier this month, the Ministry of Health has said that it had been waiting for clarity regarding a bylaw setting details about compliance and licensing, among other issues. Without such details, it is hard for businesses to adjust.

It is also sensible to consider the implications of such a law on businesses; indeed, with such vagueness, many shisha cafes might close down and many people might lose their jobs if they are asked to relocate or stop serving shisha.

But in every new piece of legislation, there will be people who are negatively affected by it. That is why the process of legislation must be preceded by a rigorous process of consultation - without unduly delaying the introduction of the law. In this case, businesses should have been consulted before the passage of the law, and not after. Announcing a law and then delaying implementation could lead people to ignore it when it comes into effect.

The point of any law is to reinforce the public good. While the Government needs to tailor legislation to legitimate interests, in the case of the antismoking bill there is an overriding public-health interest. More narrow business "interests" must not be allowed to prevent enforcement.