x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Smoke lifts amid winds of change

Authorities in Dubai move to stub out smoking in public areas that are frequented mainly by teenagers.

Under the new law patrons at internet cafes, billiard halls and electronic games centres will have to head outside for a cigarette.
Under the new law patrons at internet cafes, billiard halls and electronic games centres will have to head outside for a cigarette.

DUBAI // The clouds of cigarette smoke that waft and linger over billiard tables across Dubai will soon lift as authorities move to stub out smoking in areas frequented by teenagers. The bylaws, which will restrict smoking in areas such as billiards and snooker halls, internet cafes and online gaming centres, were announced by the municipality yesterday as part of the fourth phase of a plan to reduce the number of people who smoke and limit the impact of second-hand smoke on non-smokers.

Officials also pledged to enforce controls on shisha cafes introduced in May of last year. The fourth phase of the regulations is aimed largely at young people who are at risk of taking up the habit, officials said. Owners of internet cafes, snooker and billiard halls and online gaming centres must now obtain licences from the Department of Economic Development to allow patrons to smoke. Pool halls must be at least 2,000 square feet (185 sq/m) in size with a playing area of at least 1,500 square feet, said Zuhoor al Sabbagh, the director of the public health services department at the municipality.

"The idea is to target areas that attract youngsters and try to spread awareness about this issue," said Hussain Nasser Lootah, the acting director general of Dubai Municipality. "A lot of teenagers start smoking at a young age without the awareness of the ill effects of the habit." Mr Lootah signed a memorandum of understanding yesterday with the Dubai Sports Council on cooperation in regulating smoking at clubs, stadiums and other sport-related arenas.

Most clubs have banned smoking but some still allow it on their premises. The sports council said it would conduct intensive campaigns over the next three months to urge public and private clubs to abide by the smoking regulations. The council said it would ask leading national sportsmen to participate in no-smoking media campaigns. "We plan to approach some leading stars in sports like football and others to participate in the campaign," said Ahmed Saad al Shareef, the secretary general of Dubai Sports Council. Smoking will be regulated in clubs and even open stadiums for one year, after which fines may be introduced for violators.

Night clubs and discos will not be included in the smoking regulations, officials said. Shisha cafes that continue to flout regulations must comply by the end of the year or face closure, the municipality said yesterday. "The way shisha centres are presently being operated in Dubai is not acceptable," said Salem Bin Mesmar, the assistant director general of the municipality's health, safety and environment control sector.

The municipality has sent letters to cafes warning them against operating in residential areas. They must also have adequate ventilation and have a minimum size of 1,500 square feet. "Most shops have received messages from us that we are serious about regulating shisha and I want to say that violators will face severe punishment," Mr Mesmar said. The municipality yesterday issued a final warning to shops during the launch of the fourth phase of the smoking regulations. The first phase was introduced on May 31 last year with smoking bans at public offices, shopping malls, restaurants, hotels and other locations.

Shisha cafes were given a year to move their businesses or make changes in line with the regulations, but several operators continue to flout the rules. "Some of them have started making changes but many of them are still giving us problems," Mr Mesmar said. "Shisha is worse than smoking 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," he added.

"We are not against shisha smokers and they can have their good time. However, this should be away from families and children in residential areas who do not wish to smell this," he said. The municipality says the smoking regulations have largely been a success, with most people in Dubai abiding by the rules. Mr Mesmar said about 25 restaurants had been fined between Dh5,000 and Dh10,000 (US$1,362 and US$2,724) so far for smoking violations.

pmenon@thenational.ae