x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Put some teeth in antismoking laws

A succession of anti-smoking campaigns is fine, but what's really needed is for the federal law on tobacco to come into effect - and to be enforced properly.

Another week, another antismoking campaign is happening somewhere. World No Tobacco Day rolls around today, bringing the familiar solemn warnings, cheerful encouragements and official decrees. "Abu Dhabi Says No to Smoking", the latest campaign in the capital is called.

Every public reminder that tobacco kills is valuable. But what would be far more meaningful, and we hope is drawing closer, is full enforcement of the federal anti-tobacco legislation.

This law was approved 17 months ago but is still awaiting compilation of regulations before it can take effect. The by-laws in question are supposed to go the federal cabinet in June.

We hope so. As always in lawmaking, enforcement is what matters. Governments everywhere tend to believe that they solve problems merely by enacting legislation. But reality is not so tractable, and every country's law books are full of unenforced, sometimes unenforceable, expressions of good intentions. The smoking law is a prime example.

Smokers like to smoke. They are accustomed to smoking. It's a habit. That's why the existing ban on smoking in malls, for example, is so often a joke. Without enforcement, a ban is just words on paper.

And enforcement can be daunting. Consider for example the law's ban on smoking in a car when a child is present. Some parents who like to light up understand the danger of second-hand smoke for young lungs, and wouldn't dream of smoking with Junior in the back seat.

Others don't know, or don't care, and no words on paper will influence them. Only industrious enforcement can change this bad habit.

But how many policemen will want to devote time and energy to enforcing this ban? Senior officers, already juggling many priorities, will have to mandate enforcement - and will have to follow up.

Some parts of the law focus on producers, wholesalers, retailers and advertising, which will be easier to enforce. Health-warning labels and higher prices, for example, have proven effective in other countries.

But some of the other provisions of the law will be harder to enforce. How can police or officials keep retailers from selling to those under 18, for example, when both sides want the transaction to happen?

A good law against tobacco is a good start, but only a start. Now it must take effect, and be enforced thoroughly, even-handedly and incessantly.