x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Cafes told to heed new rules

Owners of some shisha cafes say the city's recent decision to order them out of residential areas will damage their businesses.

Two men smoke shisha at a cafe in Deira, Dubai.
Two men smoke shisha at a cafe in Deira, Dubai.

DUBAI // Owners of some shisha cafes say the city's recent decision to order them out of residential areas will damage their flourishing businesses and insist that their customers want them to stay put. On Sunday, Dubai Municipality warned shisha cafes that they must abide by tough new antismoking regulations or risk "severe punishment", including closure. "This is part of the culture and many of my customers come here after a hard day to enjoy some peace of mind," said Abdul Suluom, the owner of a cafe in Hor al Anz. "Not just the owners but all our loyal customers are very unhappy with this announcement."

The cafe sells tea, coffee and snacks but it is the shisha that brings in the customers, said Mr Suluom, whose establishment serves about 500 people a day. But some families living near cafes in the district say the ban is welcome. "This is a great relief for us," said Murali Kumar, who lives in a building that has six of the cafes on the ground floor. "Our children suffer from the smoke of shishas every evening. This is dangerous for children and must be kept away. They occupy the sidewalks and it is impossible for families to even walk past the building."

Under the new rules, the cafes will be allowed to remain in mixed residential and commercial districts, but customers will no longer be allowed to smoke outside. Cafes situated in commercial or tourist areas will also be permitted to remain where they are and customers can continue to sit outside if the owner secures a special permit. All cafes must also have adequate ventilation systems and at least 1,500 square feet of space.

In Deira, a mixed-use district, many of the cafes are also located on the ground floors of apartment buildings that supply many of their customers. "If these cafes are isolated and kept away from society," said the owner of one cafe, "then who will visit us? Business is good now because we have seats outside and people enjoy it. If they are restricted to indoors then our business will suffer. Already, the competition is very high."

The municipality said businesses had been given sufficient warning about the new regulations, which were introduced on May 31 last year and also include a ban on smoking in public offices, shopping malls, restaurants, hotels and other locations. The cafes were given a year to comply, but some have yet to make any changes. At a press conference on Sunday, Salem Bin Mesmar, the assistant director-general of the municipality's health, safety and environment control sector, said shisha was worse than smoking cigarettes "and we have to protect others from it. Shisha cafes are especially banned from residential areas and if we find violators they may be asked to close down."

The municipality recently sent letters to owners of shisha cafes warning them to comply with the rules. Yesterday, the municipality launched the fourth phase of its antismoking campaign, prohibiting smoking in places such as billiard and snooker halls, internet cafes and online gaming centres. The authorities said they were targeting places frequented by teenagers to discourage them from taking up the habit.