Though Qatar has made some strides in stomping out tobacco addiction among its populace, lax enforcement of public smoking bans here continues to grate on many residents.
Over the weekend, Dr. Ahmed Mohamed al-Mulla, director of Hamad Medical Corp.’s anti-smoking clinic, told the Gulf Times:
“We have a legislation banning smoking in public places. But the implementation part is lacking. The Supreme Council of Health has deputed several officers to check the practice. But at the ground level, not much action is taking place. There must be a greater enforcement of the law.”
Al-Mulla was speaking ahead of World No Tobacco Day, which is being marked internationally today.
None of Qatar’s major supermarkets appeared to be halting tobacco purchases today, even though a handful of Qatar shops have observed this day by banning the sale of cigarettes – a six-year tradition in Dubai – in previous years.
Currently, people who smoke in indoor public places in Qatar can face fines of up to QR500.
Authorities have discussed passing a stricter anti-smoking law that would raise penalties on shops caught selling tobacco to minors and give malls the power to ticket those found smoking on their premises, among other measures.
But after years of discussion, there appears to be little tangible progress with the new legislation.
Meanwhile, shoppers continue to flout public smoking bans, much to the consternation of some residents.
During a visit to Landmark Mall this afternoon for example, Doha News observed two men drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes at Starbucks.
When asked about the men, the manager of the shop said he was not allowed to speak to media.
However, two customers sitting nearby said they couldn’t stand the smoke. Speaking to Doha News, Umm Abdel Rahman Al Thani said she has complained many times to the coffee shop’s staff about smokers, but to no avail:
“They are too afraid to tell customers it’s illegal,” she said. “Instead they (tell violators that) other customers are upset. Sometimes smokers will put out the cigarette, other times they won’t.”
Al Thani added that many people continue to smoke in malls because the threat of a QR500 is not enough of a deterrent.
Meanwhile, a waitress at Costa Cafe in Landmark Mall told Doha News that when she informs customers that it’s illegal for them to smoke inside the shop, her words often fall on deaf ears. She explained:
“By the time I call the Baladiya (officials at the Ministry of Municipality and Urban Planning) and they get here, the customer will have already left or put out the cigarette…so what’s the point?” she said, adding that the MMUP must catch customers in the act to give them a fine.
Other residents admitted that they shy away from complaining about smokers.
Mohamed Younis, a customer at Columbus Café in Landmark Mall and father of two young girls, said he knows the smoke is not good for his children, but he prefers not to get into an argument or altercation with other customers by complaining about their smoking.
Exposure to second-hand smoke is a growing problem in Qatar and around the world.
The World Health Organization (WHO) states that of the 6 million people annually who die from consuming tobacco, 600,000 of those die from exposure to second-hand smoke.
The organization added that tobacco causes more deaths than HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, traffic accidents, suicides and murders combined.
New focus on shisha
In addition to cigarette smoking, authorities have been working over the past several months to raise awareness about the dangers of shisha.
Some health researchers say a shisha smoker will inhale more harmful chemicals than a cigarette smoker in one puff. Doctors in Doha have also said shisha could be 10 times worse than smoking cigarettes.
But attempts to restrict its usage have been met with mixed success.
At the beginning of this year, Katara Cultural Village management announced a ban on shisha smoking in public areas at its restaurants and cafes for health reasons. Several restaurants said the ban cost them many customers.
Also last year, Souq Waqif restaurants were told to set aside half of their outdoor tables for non-shisha smokers. But that policy was quickly scrapped due to declining business.
Despite efforts, smoking rates appear to be rising in Qatar.
Some 12 percent of the country’s population aged 15 years and above said they currently smoke tobacco. That’s up from 10 percent in 2013, the latest Global Adult Tobacco Study found.
Included in that report is what is believed to be the first available figures on shisha smoking in Qatar. Nearly 3.4 percent of adults said they are current shisha smokers. That includes 4.9 percent of men and 1.6 percent of women.
Meanwhile, in the past year, some 800 people have visited government clinics to help them stop smoking, the Primary Health Care corporation in Qatar said, according to QNA.