UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: Stricter smoking ban expected soon as anti-tobacco fervor sweeps Middle East
The United Arab Emirates may breathe easier under a strict ban on smoking, the details of which are still being hammered out five months after the actual bill was signed by President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper The National reported this week.
The new bylaws would ban smoking in all public places, including hotels, cafes and restaurants, and outlaw all forms of tobacco advertising. Even the ubiquitous nargileh, the traditional water pipe puffed across the region by teenagers and grandmothers alike, would be subject to tighter regulations.
The original law required only a partial ban on public smoking, and the wording was so vague that it could not be implemented, forcing health officials back to the drawing table.
They ultimately adopted more or less the exact language prescribed by the World Health Organization, banning even special smoking areas within public establishments and requiring smokers to stay at least 25 feet away from the entrance to a public building.
"We want to prevent the use of tobacco products in all public venues in the country. We want to fight this," Dr. Salim Adib of the Abu Dhabi Health Authority told The National. "I don’t think we should accept anything less than what is happening in Western Europe."
The new bylaws must be approved by the Ministry of Health and the relevant municipalities.
Drumming up the smoke-free spirit, Dubai authorities initiated their "Tobacco-Free Women" campaign this week at the Mall of the Emirates. The public awareness effort features free medical examinations at the mall for women who smoke. The campaign will culminate during worldwide Tobacco-Free Day on May 31, reported the official Emirates News Agency.
In honor of the global occasion, Dubai petrol stations have agreed to stop selling tobacco products for 24 hours, announced the Khaleej Times.
Most of the Emirates already had full or partial smoking bans in place, but the new legislation will introduce stricter measures, particularly for tobacco advertising and cafes that offer nargileh, which will be banned altogether from residential areas.
"Tobacco consumption in the gulf region has become an economic, social and health burden over the past 50 years due to the rapid and continuous phenomenon of smoking as well as the emergence of other behaviors such as shisha and medwaakh [tobacco pipe]," Health Minister Dr. Hanif Hassan said in a statement.
"The GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] countries have worked for many years on the implementation of several measures aimed at reducing the usage of tobacco and its products among its nationals, [including] anti-advertising, determining the percentage of nicotine and tar in cigarettes, increasing customs duties on tobacco products and finally the publication of numerous decisions and legislation to ban smoking in public places," he continued.
Anti-smoking efforts are gaining momentum, not just in the Emirates but across the region, signaling a change in the winds of social mores and attitudes towards public health.
Most recently, Turkey and Syria both banned smoking in public. Saudi Arabia spearheaded a smoke-free hajj campaign last year, and last August, anti-smoking legislation was proposed in the Iraqi Parliament. Israel has had a partial ban on smoking in public since 1983 and continues to pursue reforms. Even in Lebanon, more health activists have raised their voices as of late for a smoking ban.
Critical of the trend, some analysts suggest that the prohibition will have deleterious effects on the tourism industry. Dr. Jonathan Tomlin recently conducted a study on the potential effect of a proposed ban in India, claiming that the tourist industry would undoubtedly suffer.
The National Tobacco Control Committee expects the ban to be fully implemented by the end of the year.
-- Becky Lee Katz in Beirut
Top photo: The traditional water pipe is hugely popular but rarely regulated across the Middle East. Credit: 'Che' via Wikimedia Commons. Bottom photo: Health Minister Hanif Hassan has played an instrumental role in the smoking ban in the Emirates. Credit: United Arab Emirates Ministry of Health