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Saudi Arabia

Smoking ban in holy cities stays

Officials in Makkah and Madinah have denied rumors that they were about to lift the ban on tobacco sales in the two holy cities. They reaffirmed that no new licenses for selling tobacco, cigarettes and hubble-bubble will be issued.
Many cafes suffer heavy financial losses because of the tobacco ban in the two holy cities. They were forced to redesign their commercial activities in response to the biggest anti-smoking campaigns in the history of the Kingdom.
The initiative to ban tobacco sales resulted in raids aimed at stopping illegal transactions. Traders who violate the law that prohibits tobacco sales are compelled to pay fines, and their stores could be closed if they are cited for a third violation.
Yahya Saif, assistant undersecretary of Madina Services, confirmed that the ban on tobacco sales will continue. He said a report in a local newspaper that claimed that the municipality had backed off from the smoking ban and was issuing new licenses within Haram boundaries is incorrect.
Saif said: “In line with the mutual efforts of relevant government bodies to emancipate Madinah from smoking, no licenses for selling tobacco are renewed.”
“Despite the new experience, combating smoking is a very successful long-term program that projects an ideal image of Makkah to the hearts of Muslims,” according to Ahmad Alamoudi, general manager of the Association for Anti-Smoking in Makkah.
“The scheme is very effective. We are planning to consolidate its various aspects by launching enlightenment campaigns to shed light and focus on the dangers of smoking.”
On the other hand, Khalid Algarhi, a health care supervisor, said: “The resolution has not yet lived up to the level of its stated goals ... Cafes on the Makkah-Jeddah Highway were excluded from the resolution although they are located inside the Haram boundary."
Algarhi also pointed to the lack of adherence to the new law by many government and private institutions, including educational institutions.
A survey conducted in Makkah revealed that raids were not followed by strict control of the market. Especially in the evening, cafes operate as usual with no change after smoking was banned. Others closed because of the financial impact of the smoking ban.
Abdullah Al-Da’adi, a café owner in Alhosaynia District, said: “Banning smoking is still valid in Makkah and it has caused the expected financial loss. Transactions have decreased by more than 50 percent since smoking was banned.”
Because of restrictions imposed by the municipality and the unannounced inspections, many cafes changed their business model.
“A cigarette black market was created by some greedy traders in the holy cities who sell tobacco for much higher prices,” according to Fahd Alalawi.
The ban on tobacco sales has forced smokers to search everywhere possible for a cigarette. Consequently, a new market came into being.
Despite the high price, the persistent effort to control this new black market and confiscation of their illegal goods, tobacco peddlers still find ways to stay in business.
“Combating tobacco requires significant effort by the family and society,” said Dr. Ibrahim Alharbi of Alnour Hospital.
“The proper program includes educating smokers about the great dangers of smoking which helps them quit this bad habit through creative activities.”
According to the Anti-Smoking Charitable Society, Saudi Arabia spends SR8 billion ($2.1 billion) annually on treating smokers.

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