x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Anti-smoking law roll-out hindered by red tape: expert

A Ministry of Health official says some parts of the federal anti-smoking laws are very clear and should be enforced now.

Houssem Bouzidi, 28, from Tunisia, enjoys what wuthorities hope will be one of his last cigarettes at a local mall.
Houssem Bouzidi, 28, from Tunisia, enjoys what wuthorities hope will be one of his last cigarettes at a local mall.

ABU DHABI // A senior official at the Ministry of Health has stressed enforcement of the federal anti-smoking law should not be postponed, even though it has not been officially announced.

Dr Wedad al Maidour, the head of the National Tobacco Control Committee, said drafting the by-laws to enforce federal anti-tobacco law Number 15 - issued in early 2009 by Sheikh Khalifa, President of the UAE - continues to be impeded.

"There are so many bodies and authorities and government sectors and economic departments and so on involved in clarifying the law and figuring out how to enforce it down to the last detail, so it has been taken more time than we expected to finalise it," Dr al Maidour said.

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The federal anti-smoking law

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"But some parts of the law are very clear and very transparent, and should be in practice regardless of the by-laws."

This means, she said, parents should not smoke in cars with children under the age of 12 present, and police should be fining those who do.

"We need things to start," Dr al Maidour said. "If one or two are fined, word of mouth will spread and people will begin to understand that this is the law."

Yesterday, Dr al Maidour said a final draft of the by-laws was "really done this time", as long as no committee members said one more amendment had to be made, or one more point had to be clarified.

She hopes the by-laws can be presented to the FNC by early next month, "otherwise the FNC members will not meet again on such issues until September".

The by-laws will spell out: what businesses must do to have a smoking section; who will ensure cigarettes are not sold to minors or stocked in shops near schools; which shisha cafes will be licensed and which will be shut down; and when restaurants, cafes, bars and clubs must adopt a policy to ban smoking indoors.

Professor Salim Adib, the manager of public health at the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi (Haad), said the convoluted decision-making process was responsible for the delays in drafting by-laws. "It's fine that it is taking time because eventually it will happen, and when it does there will be more public readiness to accept the law, and there will be clarification on every detail of the law and who has to enforce what."

Today marks the World Health Organisation's World No Tobacco Day, which Haad has used to launch "Abu Dhabi says No to Smoking".

"Our campaign goes hand in hand with the expectation that the law will be enforced soon, even if it is still two years away," Prof Adib said. The campaign is intended to stop young people and non-smokers from starting, and urge smokers to quit.

"We are going to focus on the cultural aspect and send the message that the 'bad' aspects of our cultures and traditions should be dropped," Prof Adib said.

Six million people die worldwide each year due to tobacco use, he said, noting an increased use of shisha and medwakh in the UAE under the guise of "culture and tradition".

"Schoolchildren are picking up medwakh and other tobacco products such as neswar, a chewable tobacco product that is illegal here but popular in the Indian subcontinent and sold in small shops," Prof Adib said.

Last year a Global School Health Survey conducted in the UAE found 80 per cent of pupils had smoked.

Prof Adib said Abu Dhabi had to catch up with the rest of the world.

"It has been done everywhere else - Europe, the US and Canada," he said. "I was in Oman just last week and it was so lovely to be able to go … from mall to restaurant to cafe, and not have to smell any cigarette smoke.

"This has to be the future for the UAE as well."

hkhalaf@thenational.ae