Dozens of shopping mall cafes in the UAE are flouting the smoking ban despite threats of fines that can reach Dh100,000 for repeat offenders.
Smoking ban 'should apply to all' in UAE
Standing outside the emergency exit to have a cigarette, the owner of a cafe in Marina Mall looks through the glass partition and into his near-empty restaurant.
Since adhering to a smoking ban in malls put into effect by the Department of Economic Development (DeD) at the beginning of July, the owner has seen a vast drop in sales.
The drop, he said, is not so much to do with customers not being allowed to smoke but the inefficient way the ban has been implemented.
As of July 1, any mall cafe or restaurant owners who still allowed smoking on their premises were to be given fines reaching up to Dh100,000, some cafe owners say, for repeat offenders.
Out of more than 80 food and beverage outlets, across the five biggest malls in Abu Dhabi city, 38 had not yet introduced the ban by the start of July.
More than three months later, that number has dropped by three quarters. But those who have cleared the smoke from their establishments have also seen their profits disappear as a result of the DeD's inability to enforce a blanket ban, said the owner.
"We don't have a problem with non-smoking. We were the first to introduce the ban, before Ramadan," said the owner, who was fined shortly before introducing no-smoking signs to his restaurant.
However, with one establishment in Marina Mall still allowing smoking - and several more still ignoring the ban in other malls across the city - there is an unfair advantage.
"If I'm suffering, don't let my neighbour, in the same mall ... they should stop smoking," he said.
After taking his complaint to officials, the owner was told the DeD did not have enough staff to tackle the problem all at once.
Another restaurant owner said: "When a decree is issued by the government, it should be implemented ... across all restaurants, across the food and beverage operators inside all the malls."
"It [the ban enforcement] should have been planned before it had started. They should have targeted all the malls in one go."
Having so far been fined four times, Mr Emad Kara, the co-owner of Le Terrace, in Mushrif Mall, who says 75 per cent of his customers are smokers, has put the needs of his business above all else.
"I cannot cover ... the rental without shisha. I cannot stop. If I stop I will lose my business," he said.
Given the restaurant's outside area, the smoking ban should not apply to him, he added.
In Noir Cafe, a couple of fines were enough to make them introduce the ban, said Opeola Ohiyinka, a staff member.
"We sent the fines to the office but I told my manager there are still some shops in the mall that allow smoking," she said.
With many customers wanting to sit down for a coffee and a cigarette, they will go elsewhere in the mall.
Having spoken with the official who gave them their last fine, however, Ms Ohiyinka was told that every food and beverage outlet in every mall had been told about the conditions.
"If we had a smoking area, we would still have most customers. But we had too many fines," she said.
The message is the same from other cafe and restaurant owners - whether or not they agree with the smoking ban, it must be implemented correctly.
At one popular cafe, in Abu Dhabi Mall, no smoking would signal the end of the business, said a supervisor. "We have been fined twice. If we don't have smoking, we close the shop. No business, no anything."