x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Smoking law 'in force by year end'

Authorities have set a December 21 deadline for a smoke-free environment in the Abu Dhabi emirate.

Many coffee shops have smoking areas that are barely separated from the non-smoking sections.
Many coffee shops have smoking areas that are barely separated from the non-smoking sections.

ABU DHABI // Parts of the federal anti-smoking law should be in force in Abu Dhabi by the end of the year, health officials said yesterday.

The law was proposed in 2009 and the two-year grace period before it can be implemented ends on December 21.

Enabling by-laws that specify how the federal law is to be enforced, with a schedule of fines, have not yet been approved by the Health Council, the Executive Council of Abu Dhabi and the FNC.

But Prof Salim Adib, the manager of public health at the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi (Haad), insisted yesterday that some parts of the federal law could be activated without the by-laws.

They included bans on smoking in cars carrying children under the age of 12, on the sale of cigarettes or tobacco products to anyone under 18, and on advertisements or materials that promote any tobacco product, he said.

"We don't have to wait for the by-laws to make sure Abu Dhabi is a smoke-free environment; we don't have to wait to raise awareness," said Dr Mohammed al Seiari, director of the health system compliance division at Haad.

Dr al Seiari said he still hoped the by-laws would be approved in time for businesses to prepare.

The two men were speaking at the official launch of the "Abu Dhabi Says No To Smoking" campaign, which aims to dispel the notion that tobacco products such as medwakh and shisha are parts of Emirati or Arab culture.

"We have to kill the idea that smoking in any form is an acceptable social behaviour. And if it really is part of our culture and tradition, then it is a bad example that should not be continued and, in the case of medwakh, should not be allowed to spread," said Prof Adib.

Recent Haad statistics revealed that between 25 to 35 per cent of Abu Dhabi's population smokes. Of those, said the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, 55 per cent smoke cigarettes, 29 per cent shisha, 14 per cent cigars and 38 per cent - a growing number - smoke the medwakh pipe.

Moreover, more than 80 per cent of school pupils in the UAE have tried smoking at least once, according to the 2010 Global School Health Survey commissioned by the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation.

"By telling the public that we want to go ahead with implementing this law irrespective of the by-laws, we will empower the non-smoker," Prof Adib said.

Mohammed al Reyaysa, the director of communication and community service at the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority, said his department has already begun inspecting grocery stores to ensure they are not selling sweets that resemble tobacco products, and not selling cigarettes to minors.

"The problem is not the bigger chain stores. The problem we are facing is with the neighbourhood stores who have regular customers used to buying cigarettes. We need everyone to know, both the shopkeepers and the customers, that this is illegal," he said.

Circulars have been sent to all shops, said Mr al Reyaysa, and the public is urged to call 800 555 if any violations of the law are observed.

"We are also addressing the part of the law that prohibits tobacco farms. We have none in the emirate of Abu Dhabi, and we will make sure it stays that way," he said.

New shisha cafes applying for licences to operate in residential areas are being turned away by the municipality, said Dr al Seiari, and the licences of those already operating will not be renewed.

"The draft of the by-law currently stipulates that there has to be a minimum of 150 metres between the shisha cafe and the residential area for it to be legal," he said.

Until the by-laws that specify fines are enacted, police cannot yet punish adults for smoking in a car carrying children under 12. However, they will begin random patrols to educate offenders, said Bahyan al Ameri from Abu Dhabi Police.

"It's a little tricky; there are tinted cars here, and we might stop a parent only to find out that the child is 13, not 12, but the point is to raise awareness. When we stop a car for speeding or because the driver is not wearing his seat belt or is speaking on the phone, we will check for smoking as well," he said.

Everyone should prepare themselves and keep the December 21 deadline in mind, the officials said.

"We are warning businesses that this is going to happen," Dr al Seiari said.

hkhalaf@thenational.ae