Manama: Saudi Arabia’s General Commission for Tourism and Antiquities has imposed a ban on smoking at all tourism facilities.

The ban includes hotels, furnished apartments, travel agencies and all closed areas where tourism activities are organised, local media have reported.

Staff working in the tourism sector have been warned to abide by the new regulations amid pledges that stringent action would be taken against violators.

The Commission on Saturday said that the ban was based on the interior ministry circular about eliminating smoking in all closed public areas in the kingdom. These include all government buildings, public establishments, cafés, restaurants, shopping malls and enclosed crowded areas.

Saudi Arabia, a world leading cigarette market, has been pushing aggressively for restrictions on smoking in public.

Last month, municipal authorities in the Saudi Red Sea resort of Jeddah shut down 242 restaurants and cafes for serving shisha.

“They were closed for 24 hours as a first measure against them for breaking the law,” Basheer Abu Najm, the head of licensing and commercial monitoring in Jeddah, said. “A second violation would result in shutting down the facility for three days while the third would mean closing it for 15 days.”

Violators could eventually have their licences revoked, he said.

The restaurants and cafes were also asked to pay a 600 riyals (Dh587) fine for not complying with the ban. The shishas were confiscated.

Abu Najm said that the drive against public smoking would continue and that more raids would be conducted against the facilities that served shishas to their customers despite the ban.

“Our aim is not shutting down restaurants and cafes, but to ban smoking in public places. Punitive measures and fines are imposed according to the regulations set out by the interior ministry. Those who have any form of complaint should contact the competent authorities,”

Jeddah, like all other cities in Saudi Arabia, has warned restaurants and cafes in residential areas that they would face stringent action if they failed to comply with the law.

According to official figures, Saudi Arabia is home to six million smokers, including around 800,000 teenagers, mainly intermediate and high school students, and 600,000 women.

However, expatriates also account for a significant proportion of cigarette consumption in Saudi Arabia despite the increase in campaigns about health concerns, the adoption of several legislative restrictions and views on the effects of passive smoking.

A top Saudi football team in August imposed heavy financial penalties on a group of players caught smoking shisha in a coffee shop in Abu Dhabi, where the squad was taking part in a friendly tournament.

A Saudi judge in summer ruled that women who suffered as a result of their husbands’ smoking were allowed to file for divorce.

In October, Saudi judges set a new trend in the country by using cigarette smoking as a factor in child custody cases.

“A parent could now lose the custody case if he or she is proven to be a smoker,” a legal official said.

“Under the emerging trend, the smoking factor is now being treated like the drinking factor and can decide the outcome of the custody case,” he said.

The court would favour non-smoking parents and would factor smoking into custody cases to protect the child from the negative impact of passive smoking.