x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Protecting children from ills of smoking

Laws to stop adults lighting up in cars with children passengers must be rigorously enforced.

Where there's smoke, there's ire. At least, that's the case when tobacco and children mix.

The UAE has some sobering statistics when it comes to smoking, with about 28 per cent of Emiratis under the age of 18 identifying themselves as smokers. A quarter of them had their first puff before they turned 10.

So the Federal Cabinet should be applauded for the extent of the initiatives it approved this week to combat the trend, the most newsworthy of which was to make it illegal for anyone to smoke in a car if someone under the age of 12 is present. It's part of a tranche of measures that will also restrict the ways in which tobacco products are advertised and affect smoking in cafes.

The move is bold because in a country with an automotive obsession such as the UAE, the car is almost seen as an extension of one's living room. The ban on smoking with children on board could easily feel like an uncomfortable intrusion of the government's reach into a domain that many consider to be private space rather than the public arena.

But there is plenty of evidence to support the cabinet's approach. Of the six million people around the world who are expected to die this year from tobacco-related illnesses, one in 10 of them were not smokers at all but were exposed via the second hand smoke of those around them. The federal law follows the actions of individual emirates, such as Sharjah's decision in April to ban cigarette sales in groceries in exclusively residential areas or near schools. That bolsters moves across the emirates to deter children from starting to smoke in the first place.

The next question is, of course, enforcement. The UAE has a series of visionary child-protection laws, such as requiring little ones to be securely restrained while in a car. But laws don't translate into changed attitudes without police enforcing the measures. There would hardly be a single resident who doesn't regularly see children being placed on their parents' laps or even extending through the sunroof as they are driven around.

Yet enforcement will never be possible if there aren't sound laws to defend. We owe it to the next generation of Emiratis and residents to ensure that the federal cabinet's bold new antismoking rules are matched by a level of enforcement that is equally aggressive.