Shisa Cafe Owners in Abu Dhabi Face Stiff Fines Under New Laws
By Angela Sanders Friday, December 06, 2013, 10:24 PM EST
Shisha café owners in Abu Dhabi and throughout the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have less than two months to be in compliance with stringent new rules or face stiff penalties. In order to protect public health and reduce underage smoking, the Cabinet passed laws in July placing several new restrictions on the popular cafes. Owners who are not compliant face penalties that include fines up of the Dh 1 million (USD $270,000), up to two years in prison and closure of their business.
Shisha, also known as a hookah or water pipe, is a popular form of smoking throughout the Middle East and Asia. It is a glass-bottomed water pipe containing fruit-flavored tobacco which is covered in foil and roasted with charcoal. The smoke created is cooled as it passes through the water chamber before it is inhaled through a long, flexible tube by the smoker. Unlike regular cigarettes, shisha is intended to be a slow, relaxing smoke, shared among a group of friends.
Tracing it's origins to early Persian history, the shisha has been one of the most long-enduring and popular forms of smoking throughout history. First found in what is now modern-day Iran and Turkey, use of the water pipe began to spread into the Arab world around 300 years ago. It has quickly become one of the most common forms of recreation and relaxation, particularly among males of the Middle East. In the UAE, it is estimated that approximately 30 percent of the UAE population smokes, at least half of whom smoke shisha on a regular basis. Today, there are about 500 shisha cafes in the UAE, with 176 in the capital city of Abu Dhabi.
The new regulations may severely limit the availability of shisha cafes within the city. One of the primary requirements of the law is that all shisha cafes must be located at least 150 meters from a residential area, mosque or school. According to the Department of Economic Development (DED) nearly all of the country's cafes fail to meet this standard. In fact, Ahmed Qubaisi, the acting director of the commercial protection division, estimates that only 20 cafes will easily be able to comply. Those who cannot must either relocate or apply for special license in order to be able to continue offering shisha service after January 31, 2014. No new shishas will be grated licenses unless they first meet this requirement.
Other new measures include that all cafes must post a sign limiting patronage to those over the age of 18. Owners will be responsible for ensuring that no underage smokers are allowed in. Cafes will be only be allowed to operate between 10 a.m. and midnight, and restaurants that also host cafes will be required to ensure that the smoking is conducted only in a fully enclosed area. The café must also meet minimum size requirements. The DED will begin conducting inspections in early February next year to ensure compliance with these regulations. Because owners have been given advance warning, there will be no exceptions made once inspections begin.
Although the driving force behind these new laws is heightened public health concerns due to exposure to toxins in shisha smoke, many Arabs do not view shisha smoking as dangerous. Shisha cafes are popular gathering places for men, and shisha smoking is seen as a relaxing, pleasurable experience. Many men use the shisha café as a refuge from their day, spending time relaxing and enjoying the company of friends and colleagues as they inhale the fruity smoke from the shisha. While some do agree that the new laws are a good idea, few residents intend to give up their shisha habit, even if it means altering their daily schedule or traveling farther to find a suitable café.
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