Move to Ban Groceries Near Schools Filed on January 22, 2010

In an attempt to make cigarettes inaccessible to underage youth, officials are mulling over banning groceries near schools and sports stadiums.

The move follows the recent introduction of the federal anti-tobacco law that specifies sale of tobacco products in designated areas only and also bans sale of cigarettes to youth under the age of 18.

Under the new by-laws that are expected to take shape soon, groceries will also be required to obtain special permits before being allowed to stock and sell cigarettes. “Once implemented, municipalities will carry out intense ‘sting operations’ to ensure rules are being followed,” said a senior official.

“A GCC-wide draft law on licensing of groceries to allow them to sell cigarettes is ready for implementation,” said Dr Wedad Al Maidoor, Head of the National Tobacco Control Committee at the UAE Ministry of Health.

“This law will help us draft regulations at the local level which will curb sale to both the youth and adults,” she explained, while talking to Khaleej Times on Thursday. She said the issue would be further discussed during a GCC-wide meeting to be held in Kuwait next week. “The law has been announced but we are still detailing the by-laws and will announce further health policies in this regard soon,” said Salem Al Darmaki, Acting Director General at the ministry.

Though a UAE-wide law barring groceries from selling cigarettes to underage youth has been there since 2000, it has never been strictly implemented, said Dr Wedad. “Groceries have been flouting rules openly since there has been no strict implementation,” she explained. However, once the licensing procedures are in place, groceries will not be able to stock any such products, and hence will not be able to make these retail sales to youth, she added.

Smoking or tobacco use among schoolchildren in the UAE starts at an early age, according to the Global School Health Survey (GSHS) released in 2005 which is the only such survey to date.According to the survey conducted among 15,790 students from 200 schools from all over the UAE, 9.3 per cent of the students smoked cigarettes and 10.7 per cent used another form of tobacco on one or more days during one month.

Boys were found to be significantly more likely than girl students to smoke or use tobacco in any form, the survey showed. Under the anti-tobacco law, shopkeepers can ask for identification in case they doubt the buyers’ age before selling any tobacco product.

However, grocery owners admitted they were not following any such rules but said the new rule could affect sales.

“People get upset if we ask for identification,” said a grocer in Sharjah, the second emirate following Dubai to ban smoking even before introduction of the federal law.

“Most regular customers ask only for only one cigarette or so. If we ask for identifications, they may stop buying from us,” he added. Another local grocer also admitted that he was aware that in some cases, adults bought cigarettes for youngsters.

“We can’t say no in such cases,” he added. Under the new federal law, sale of tobacco will entail a jail term of up to a year and a fine of up to Dh100,000.


Asma Ali Zain

Associated with KT for 15 years. Covers health issues, Pakistan community, human interest stories as well as general topics for daily news or features.

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