Smoking on balconies in Dubai in focus after Torch Tower blaze

Doctor says the knock-on effects of smoking can be detrimental to more than just a person’s health.

By Kelly Clarke/staff Reporter

Published: Tue 24 Feb 2015, 1:12 AM

Last updated: Thu 25 Jun 2015, 7:45 PM

Dubai - Though the cause behind Saturday’s fire at Torch Tower remains unknown as yet, issues relating to the dangers linked to indoor and balcony smoking have come under the spotlight, with one doctor saying the knock-on effects can be detrimental to more than just a person’s health.

“There are a lot of dangers associated with smoking cigarettes and sheesha. It goes beyond just affecting a person’s health,” the Dubai Health Authority’s (DHA) Dr Shamsa Abdullah bin Hammad told Khaleej Times on Sunday.

All too often, she said, we read reports of house and building fires being caused by smoking — not just in the UAE, but around the world too.

A fire-maintanence notice posted in Diamond Views 3 apartment block in Jumeirah Village Circle, Dubai. 

“These types of smoking-related incidents affect a person’s life, not just the interior or exterior of a building. It affects people emotionally too.”

In 2012, a Dubai Police investigation concluded that a huge fire that engulfed Tamweel Tower in Jumeirah Lake Towers was started by a cigarette, but fortunately, like Saturday’s blaze, no serious casualties were reported.

A deeper message

Dr Hammad runs several smoke cessation clinics across Dubai and though she said people at the centres are educated about the health benefits associated with quitting smoking, the message goes deeper.

“We don’t just educate our clients about health, we educate them about the safety issues related to smoking too. Like how carelessly flicking cigarette butts off balconies can cause fires as well as failing to properly extinguish sheesha coals in your house. The effects of smoking goes far and beyond what we all think.”

Safety tips for families

> The head of the family should be aware of all kinds of potential fires that could occur in the house, and all types of fire extinguishers that should be used to combat these kinds of fires

> An emergency plan should be set with steps to be taken by family members and housemaids in case of fire. Civil Defence 997 & Police 999 emergency numbers should be displayed in a clear place

> Assign some of the family members for alert, awake and evacuate the children, senior people and people with special needs during emergency

> Training family members, especially children, on how to evacuate the premises during an emergency

> Avoid smoking within bedrooms and other places where children are present, as smoking accounts for 25 per cent of occurring fires

> Avoid using barbeque and charcoal cookers in confined spaces

(Source: Directorate General of Civil Defence)

In 2001, His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, signed a law making it illegal for people to smoke in cars carrying passengers under the age of 12. It is laws like this which help towards tackling issues of smoking, Dr Hammad said.

“They have even banned smoking in some indoor venues such as malls and eateries. That’s a big move here as smoking is a big part of society. Though rules like this won’t put a stop to people smoking in their own homes, they help encourage people to extinguish cigarettes and sheesha correctly.”

On Sunday, Khaleej Times reported that an official from Select Group, the builders of Torch Tower, noted sheesha and cigarettes on balconies as being a “big, big problem” in the country. “People here just don’t care about the safety of others. They don’t understand the consequences of a cigarette butt flung from a balcony,” the official said.

One Dubai resident who agrees is Lynzi Claire. She said standards on smoking in buildings should be higher and policies followed through. “In my building people are smoking in their apartments even though it’s a non-smoking building with nothing being said to them,” she said.

Safety in buildings stepped up

Following Saturday’s fire, Dubai residents took to Facebook to talk about the blaze, and one Jumeirah Village Circle (JVC) resident, Robert Fiala, talked of a surprise safety check in his apartment, just hours after news of the fire hit the headlines.

“ ... One of the Skyscrapers in Dubai Marina set ablaze last night ... all is well but funny thing is today (Saturday) the fire safety guys came to my home to test fire alarms and check the dates on the fire extinguishers ... better safe than sorry I guess,” his Facebook post read.

When Khaleej Times spoke to a representative of JVC’s Diamond Views 3 apartment block, they confirmed that Saturday’s safety checks were carried out as part of “standard safety procedures” and had nothing to do with the media hype surrounding the Torch Tower fire.

“We alerted our tenants of these safety tests weeks prior to the fire at Torch Tower and have been carrying them out (in) ... apartments since February 14. So, it’s not just a case of us acting on safety precautions now because Saturday’s fire hit worldwide news channels. We regularly carry out safety checks like this,” the representative said.

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