Dubai: The UAE is pushing for a blanket ban on smoking in public spaces which will see the removal of designated smoking areas in malls, restaurants, workplaces and other public areas, an official said on Tuesday.
The National Tobacco Control Committee of the UAE will make a proposal to amend the Federal Tobacco Control Law and its bylaws for making public spaces 100 per cent smoke-free, Dr Wedad Al Maidour, a member of the committee and the head of Tobacco Control Programme at the Ministry of Health and Prevention, told reporters.
She was speaking at the launch of a mobile smoking cessation clinic held to mark World No Tobacco Day.
According to the World Health Organisation, she said, the UAE, a member of the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, is still in a red zone with regard to taxation of tobacco products and prevention of smoking in public areas.
“They are pushing us to change the law from having designated smoking areas to 100 per cent smoke-free areas in public spaces,” said Dr Al Maidour.
Hence, she said, the committee is planning to propose an amendment to the federal anti-tobacco law and its bylaws by the end of this year. “We will have to present the proposal to the PMO [Prime Minister’s Office],” she said.
A blanket ban would mean complete prohibition on smoking in all public buildings and areas. Also, smokers will have the freedom of taking a puff only in private buildings and homes.
Most public areas in the UAE are already smoke-free, Dr Al Maidour said. “But, we are still allowing people to smoke in designated areas and restaurants. That needs to be stopped in order for us to change our status from the red zone,” she noted.
Under existing laws, there is already a provision for members of the public to volunteer and report people violating anti-smoking rules. Though health officials had announced that smokers caught red-handed by these undercover agents would be fined Dh500, a timeframe for the implementation of the system has not been announced. The law also prohibits smoking in the company of children under the age of 12 in cars. A violation of that rule also attracts a fine of Dh500.
Dr Al Maidour said the implementation of a blanket ban, once approved, would be a laborious task for the enforcement agencies in various emirates. She noted that some of the northern emirates still lag behind in implementing various primary clauses of the federal laws.
“We are happy with how the Dubai Municipality is implementing the laws….We need to focus more on the northern emirates…They have different entities in charge of enforcing tobacco control regulations. We are going to meet them and form a focus group to chalk out stricter enforcement in those emirates.”
What blanket ban on smoking in public areas means:
All public buildings and spaces to go smoke-free
No designated smoking areas in malls, restaurants, workplaces
Smoking limited to private buildings and homes
Bigger pictorial warnings in cigarette packs by 2017
Bigger pictorial warnings on cigarette packages in the UAE will be implemented by next year.
This was announced by a senior official at a World No Tobacco Day event on Tuesday.
The GCC countries are planning to increase the customs and excise tax on cigarettes and put bigger pictorial warnings on cigarette packets to discourage smokers, said Dr. Wedad Al Maidour, a member of the National Tobacco Control Committee and head of Tobacco Control Programme at the Ministry of Health and Prevention.
She said the new regulations to implement pictorial warnings covering 70 per cent of cigarette packets will be implemented in the UAE by 2017. “Currently, the pictorial warnings cover 50 per cent of the cigarette packets sold here. We want cigarette companies to increase it to 70 per cent of the package,” she said.
As per the new rules, no adjectives that make cigarettes more appealing will be allowed on the packages. The GCC committee has already shortlisted five pictorial warnings and it is now up to the member countries to force the companies that sell cigarettes in their jurisdiction to implement them, said Dr. Al Maidour.
She said discussions are also on regarding the implementation of plain packaging which is the World Health Organisation’s theme for this year’s No Tobacco Day under the slogan ‘Get ready for plain packaging’.
According to the WHO, plain packaging of tobacco products restricts or prohibits the use of logos, colours, brand images and promotional information on packaging other than brand and product names displayed in a standard colour and font style.
In December 2012, Australia became the first country to fully implement plain packaging. Earlier this month, France and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland each began implementation of plain packaging. Ireland is also preparing to introduce the measure, while other countries are exploring the option.
Taxation and e-cigarette
Regarding taxation, Dr Al Maidour said a GCC-wide proposal for a 100 per cent hike in customs duty on cigarettes was yet to be implemented. “There is a push for implementing that soon. But that is not enough. We want to impose excise tax also on cigarettes. Then only will smokers slowly start feeling the pinch and will be discouraged from buying cigarettes. Starting with a 30 per cent excise duty will also be fine, with an increase in that every two-three years.”
The official also ruled out the possibility of the UAE legalising the sale of e-cigarettes. Currently, the import and sale of e-cigarettes is banned here.
Dr Al Maidour said the committee officials had met members of the Emirates Standardisation and Metrology Authority which had reportedly sought to know the standards and specifications for e-cigarettes from the World Trade Organisation, a move that followed the legal acceptance of e-cigarettes in the UK.
“We have convinced them that we cannot approve e-cigarettes based on the studies that the UK took into consideration. They were funded by tobacco companies…We still don’t have proof that e-cigarettes are harmless and they are not yet approved as a way to quit smoking,” she explained.