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Fri 22 Aug 2014 09:57 AM

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Smoke-free Dubai - the big debate

Will the emirate ever be smoke free? We spark up the conversation

Smoke-free Dubai - the big debate

F or smokers in the city, lighting up at free will just about anywhere isn’t as easy as it once was. Despite the fact that Dubai is still one of the cheapest major cities in the world to buy cigarettes, laws are gradually being implemented to help phase out smoking in public places, as well as the occurrence of tobacco addiction in both teens and adults. While Aussies fork out around Dhs85 for the world’s most expensive pack of smokes according to data company Numbeo, cigarettes in Dubai are substantially more affordable at Dhs10 a pop, yet still more than you pay for the world’s cheapest pack in Pakistan at Dhs3.73.

The most recent statistics from the World Health Organisation show that the top cause of death in Dubai is cardiovascular disease, of which smoking is a major factor. Earlier this year, Dubai Municipality implemented its latest law, which sees stricter control on the sales of tobacco to under 18s as well as the banning of smoking in cars when a child under 12 is in the vehicle. Though the laws have come a long way in the past seven years, there is still a lot to be done to follow in the footsteps of places with more progressive laws, such as Australia and Europe.

‘Back in 2006 when I arrived, you could smoke pretty much anywhere you wanted including malls, restaurants and cafés’, says Schalk Pienaar, bar manager of Urban Bar & Kitchen (UBK) at the Mövenpick Jumeirah Lakes Towers. ‘What really changed was that venues with restaurant licenses had to have a designated smoking area, but for bars the law has stayed the same,’ he adds. UBK is one of the huge number of Dubai bars to allow smoking inside, with a designated non-smoking area for diners.

The appeal for smokers is a no-brainer. ‘There is a big smoking community in the UAE and many of them frequent bars; they enjoy not having restriction when it comes to smoking,’ says Schalk. ‘It creates a relaxed environment and it induces more spending and a feeling of freedom.’

But that view isn’t shared by most non-smoking health-conscious Dubaians, who are finding it enduringly difficult to socialise in the city. ‘I don’t go to clubs because of the smoke,’ says British resident Mo Hussain. ‘There’s nowhere in my area that I know of that’s smoke-free. My first thought is they can the open a door or at least introduce smoke-free happy hours,’ he says.

Those partial to the odd cigarette are adamant the problem lies in non-smokers. ‘If people don’t like smoking, they can choose to hang out in non-smoking environments,’ says Dubai-based British resident Scarlett Goddard. ‘If they are worried about their health, then late-night clubs, with loud music and beverages, doesn’t seem like an ideal activity anyway,’ she says. ‘As for the smell of cigarette smoke, I can guarantee to you that clubs and bars where you can no longer smoke, smell a lot worse. Cigarettes actually camouflage the age-old smell of dirty carpet and sweat,’ Scarlett says.

According to reports by the Ministry of Health in 2013, one in three UAE residents under the age of 18 are sparking up, a statistic that has propelled anti-smoking campaigns. Dr Hanan Obaid, Head of Community Health Services programme section at Dubai Health Authority and the leader of the Tobacco Free Dubai project says that since the campaign’s launch in 2009, the focus going forward is on increasing the awareness of the hazards of smoking in the community, targeting teenagers and building infrastructure for smoking cessation clinics.

‘We concentrate more on schools, because our statistics show that there is a 14.6 percent occurrence of smokers in schools and at universities it is around 17.9 percent. It’s more common in boys than girls,’ she says. ‘There are also passive smokers among those students, because their parents or their peers are smoking,’ says Dr Hanan. ‘In schools the second-hand smokers count for around 29 percent and in university around 46.4 percent. We think that if we concentrate on age groups between 13 to 15, we will prevent smoking in adulthood,’ she says.

Passive smoking is one of the greatest concerns for most non-smokers frequenting bars and clubs in Dubai, as well as for staff. ‘I believe that, if most staff had a choice, the vast majority would prefer to work in a non-smoking environment,’ says Carlos Santos, Portuguese bar manager of Bahri Bar at Dubai’s Mina A’Salam hotel, which allows smoking both indoors and outdoors. ‘Smoking-related illnesses are very real and a concern for us all.’ On top of that, there is often inadequate circulation in place to deal with the level of smoke experienced by some bars. ‘Extraction systems in some venues are below standards and the atmosphere becomes very unpleasant so a non-smoking rule would be a practical and health-conscious move,’ says Carlos.

To date, no new laws have been proposed for banning smoking in bars. Some outlets, however, are already taking their own small steps. In April this year Zuma banned cigars in its bar and lounge following compaints from guests.

In the meantime, Dubai Health Authority is concerned with getting to the root of the problem. ‘We now have two smoking cessation clinics belonging to Dubai Health Authority’s Primary Health Care, one in Al Safa Centre and one in Al Barsha Health Centre. We also have one at Dubai Men’s College, Higher College of Technology and this is only targeting students in university,’ she says.

The clinics assist those who want to quit and offer packages for around Dhs800, which include visits to the doctor, tests and medication. As the saying goes, it’s never too late to quit.

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Proud non-smoker 5 years ago

Why do smokers have more rights than non-smokers? Putting a drop of poison into our drinks by strangers is not why are we forced to endure smoke blown in our face? Do non-smokers no longer have the right to go out to eat or go to a bar? Are these domains owned by smokers now? When I smoked, I endured my smoking outside, some nights, blowing snow or freezing rain and -20 degrees C because the bars where I'm from had the sense to ban smoking inside. So I waited in queue to get my coat from coat check, walked outside, froze while smoking, walked back inside (stinking like cigarettes, of course), waited in queue again to put my coat in and the entire 15 minutes, to me, was worth it because I was addicted. Even when I smoked here, I preferred to have the wind take my smoke than have it rest in my hair and clothes. Here, you have year round clear skies, rare rain and perhaps muggy and hoo. You obtained the addiction, deal with it without killing others with it

Mick 5 years ago

UAE is meant to follow in the footsteps of other major countries and forward thinking and cosmopolitan nations but with the smoking tolerance in the city now, it's much more like Russia, Kazakhstan, or Kyrgyzstan with its smoking policies than Germany, Canada or UK. Some make arguments about alcohol or fast food being dangerous but they don't slowly kill people when being consumed next to someone. I have smoked for over 25 years (2 packs/day) and quit almost a year ago because I was tired of killing myself and those around me with carcinogens. Children are inhaling cigarette and shisha smoke in low ventilated establishments. I realize that many children here aren't being put in seatbelts in fast moving vehicles that don't use indicators but for those that DO care about children, please don't smoke around them. Saw a man inside Dubai Mall smoking a cigarette in front of Lafayette with his kids. Another local airport employee smoking in his open door office next to visa kiosk

axeman 5 years ago

In the UAE the individual, as well as the outlet, have the choice which is a good thing. I like to enjoy a smoke with my beverage and would shun an outlet that does not give me that choice. Similarly, for those that object to the smell of smoke they too have a choice of outlets that do not permit smoking. My particular favourite watering hole has an excellent compromise of smoking and non-smoking and a good air-scrubbing system which is very effective so everyone is happy. I hope for the sake of the F&B industry Dubai does not adopt a UK model which has been disastrous for the pub business in the UK. Whenever I visit UK I rarely frequent a pub anymore. Recently I went to an outlet in JBR and surprise, surprise, one couldn't get a table in the smoking section (full) whereas as the non-smoking was nigh on empty. Tells a story!

MT3 5 years ago

Filthy, grubby, old inner-city boozers may have lost out but the economic downturn and availability of obscenely cheap booze has also tended to keep the chavs at home. Well-run, family-friendly, gastropubs however have more than embraced the opportunity and are doing better than ever as I witnessed myself at Borough Market in London last weekend where every single pub was heaving. As with football, previously the preserve of the troglodytes hooligans, pubs have now been gentrified and are firmly the preserve of the gentler classes. And I for one will raise a glass of organic elderberry wine spritzer to that.

Mick 5 years ago say "Whenever I visit UK I rarely frequent a pub anymore".....well, since I quit smoking, I find myself unable to visit a pub also....except the difference is that your unfortunate situation results in you going home smelling fresh and waking up with less of a hangover and cough. Mine does the opposite when I have to take whats out there.

Captain Colitis 5 years ago

Hey axeman....I tried to find a place after I was told that I was diagnosed with UC and after being told that I can't be near cigarette smoke or it will cause inflammation internally so I tried to find a place, any place to watch the World Cup matches and there were about 5 to choose from that were non smoking - out of hours of calls and online a city of, probably over a 300 establishments that serve alcohol (for my friends). Where is my choice? I'm glad, at least, that the winter gives us patios. We get to actually get out for part of the year while the smokers take up the rest and the indoors. Will it kill you to smoke outside like the rest of the world does? Like I chose to do for decades so those that didn't make the conscious decision to suck up my habit, didn't have to by a choice that I made.

New Yorker 5 years ago

Mick you should really check your facts before making disparaging comments about other countries. I have visited Kazakhstan and it has strict laws regarding smoking in public spaces. As an example (

Mick 5 years ago

Interesting. I have a very good Kazakh friend that owns a number of business properties in central Almaty and says that smoking is rampant in public. I guess there is the media and there is real life.

Eddie Karchanovski 5 years ago

I think Dubai must stop copy others country laws like in EU and USA. It is a time to have own style. Most of the tourist loves Dubai because still having the freedom to smoke here. I believe that alcohol having worse effects on people health, reactions, culture and the young generation is more addicted then the cigarettes habits. What do you think? Also most of the people here getting so low salary and they can't force them self's to buy expensive one. At the same time we need this people to stay here and work. I think the prices of alcohol must be increase triple here

Mazhar Fakher 5 years ago

The laws for bars did not stay the same. If you look up the original law bars and licensed restaurants in hotels had to provide smoking chambers with extractors for smokers. The law was subsequently relaxed and remains unenforced. There are still a few remnants of these smoking chambers at Premier Inns which have an enclosed space for smokers to keep their bars smoke free but most other bars now allow smoking anywhere