x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Owners and smokers on edge ahead of new rules on Abu Dhabi’s shisha cafes

Owners say confusion still lingers as shisha cafes in the emirate must comply with a raft of new rules from February 1 or face a Dh1 million fine, prison and closure of their business.

Smokers say they support the new rules for shisha cafes, but most are uncertain what they mean for their favourite venues. Silvia Razgova / The National
Smokers say they support the new rules for shisha cafes, but most are uncertain what they mean for their favourite venues. Silvia Razgova / The National

ABU DHABI // Confusion surrounds the enforcement of a new law under which almost every shisha cafe in Abu Dhabi will have to close or move.

From February 1, cafes may not operate within 150 metres of residential areas, schools and mosques.

There are about 500 shisha cafes in the emirate including 176 in Abu Dhabi city, 178 in Mussaffah, 90 in Al Ain and 11 in Al Gharbia, and about 90 per cent of them are in densely populated areas. The rules were announced last July but owners were given a seven-month grace period to comply, move, apply for a special licence or close down.

Under the new law shisha cafes must be closed beween midnight and 10am, and the area occupied by each individual smoker must be at least two square metres. They must also have a sign at the front banning customers younger than 18.

Inspectors from the Department of Economic Development will begin visits next month to ensure compliance with the new law. Owners found to have broken the law face fines of up to Dh1 million, two years in prison and closure of their businesses.

However, both owners and customers say they are unclear about whether the new law applies to them, and how it will be enforced

One owner whose cafe is near a mosque is still waiting to hear from authorities if the business will be closed or not.

The owner is worried that the cafe would not be profitable without offering shisha, and other places that met the requirements could raise their prices, to the disadvantage of customers.

“I’m leaving everything to God,” the owner said.

About 30 to 40 people visit the cafe every day for shisha. It opens from 10am to midnight and a member of staff there said it never served under-18s.

One shisha smoker, Tahron Al Fadilah, an Emirati, had mixed views on the regulations.

“It is a good thing but not by much,” said Mr Al Fadilah, 35.

“Because maybe I will have to travel outside the city and I do not want to travel outside the city to smoke a shisha. I will invite people to my home.”

Mr Al Fadilah, who has smoked the water pipe for 15 years, said he knew of several cafes that would be forced to either shut or move.

“I support this decision, I support the Government. It will be very hard on us who have to travel, but at the same time it will be very good for all the people in the area to have good, pure air to breathe.”

He felt it would be a better idea to have a similar operation to that of Saudi Arabia, where shisha cafes were clustered five to 10 kilometres out of town.

“Far away from the city — two to three miles from the city there is a big complex where all the shisha cafes are in the area. There are maybe 10 or 15 cafes in the area. It would be a good solution I think to the smoking here.”

In the dim lights of the Special 2 cafe on the Corniche, smoke billows around Hussein Mohammed, 30, and Ghassan Arman, 40, as they chat and puff on water pipes.

They have heard about the rules and are unsure if the Special will be affected.

“Every day almost I smoke shisha,” said Mr Mohammed.

“I am a regular here. This is where we go to meet friends, I do not go to the cinema or the like.”

“There are cons and advantages,” said Mr Arman.

“It is not healthy to smoke shisha but we don’t want to have to travel far for it.”

Another shisha smoker at the cafe, a Syrian, said he thought the regulations were a good move.

But he said there were some drawbacks, especially for people who don’t drink alcohol.

“You need places for rest if you’re not going to bars,” he said.