New Saudi rules on hookah leave businesses, consumers confused

Arab News visited different restaurants in the town and found a few serving hookahs. (AP/File)
Updated 15 October 2019

New Saudi rules on hookah leave businesses, consumers confused

  • Manal Jafar: Everywhere in our city is polluted with smoke, you can hardly find a restaurant where you can safely take your kids

RIYADH: The Saudi Ministry of Rural and Municipal Affairs has imposed new regulations on restaurants and cafes serving hookah. Although many were disappointed following the announcement to allow hookah inside cities, businesses were shocked to know about the fees imposed on them. Nonsmokers have also raised their concerns after they realized that bills will rise by 100 percent if they visit a restaurant that serves hookah.
Arab News visited different restaurants in the town and found a few serving hookahs. Some said that they will still serve it, but will not charge customers any extra fees.
Meanwhile, a trending hashtag in Saudi Arabia addressed the issue of fees on tobacco, with some customers sharing their bills online.
Michel Abou Assaly, director of operations at Shababik Restaurant in Jeddah, said that when they first found out about the new law they were surprised: “We were obliged to stop serving hookah and we had to send all our employees at the shisha department on a short leave until things became clearer.” He added they did not want their customers to pay double the price for the same product. He anticipates a 40 percent drop in sales.
“Thousands of restaurants and cafes will close down and at least 100,000 families will be affected,” Assaly said. He added that investors should ask the ministry to reconsider this law.
Halima Muthaffar, a writer, said that although she hates the smell of tobacco, she still sees this as an unfair decision. She added that it is not the right time, especially as Saudi Arabia is opening up for tourists.

FASTFACT

• The use of tobacco is expected to cost the Saudi economy SR480 billion ($128 billion) for the period 2018-2030.

• Authorities hope to reduce tobacco consumption in the Kingdom to 5 percent by 2030.

• The annual fee for the license to serve tobacco ranges from SR5,000 to SR100,000.

• Fees for licensing tobacco during events range from SR600 to SR3,000.

• 100 percent of fees are imposed on all bills of restaurants and cafes serving tobacco.

Columnist Gassan Badkook said that the authorities will reconsider the way these fees are being calculated. He said that three groups will be negatively affected: Nonsmokers, who will have to pay fees for a product they do not use, investors who might close their businesses and employees who might lose their jobs.
Manal Jafar said she agrees with the fees: “A restaurant should serve food only. Everywhere in our city is polluted with smoke, you can hardly find a restaurant where you can safely take your kids.”
Mohammad bin Hamad said he rarely goes to a restaurant with his family, but they never ask for hookah. “Why should I pay 100 percent fees on top of my bill? We should wait for a few months, many restaurants will stop offering hookah because they will lose so many customers.”


Oman, UAE praise Saudi Arabia for reaching a deal between Yemeni parties

Updated 11 min 28 sec ago

Oman, UAE praise Saudi Arabia for reaching a deal between Yemeni parties

  • Gulf countries praise Saudi Arabia’s role in brokering the Riyadh Agreement.
  • The deal ends a feud between the government and the STC and refocuses efforts on fighting the Houthi militia

RIYADH: Oman welcomed on Tuesday Saudi Arabia’s efforts in bringing together the Yemeni government and southern separatists to sign a power sharing agreement. 
The two parties signed the Saudi-brokered deal in Riyadh last week to end a power struggle in the country’s south. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman hailed the agreement as a step toward a wider political solution to the Yemen conflict.
Oman’s foreign ministry said it “hopes the agreement will pave the way for a comprehensive settlement in Yemen.”
Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Defense Minister, Prince Khalid bin Salman, visited Oman on Monday and met Sultan Qaboos bin Said.
The UAE Cabinet also welcomed on Tuesday the signing of the agreement and expressed confidence that it will establish a “new era of unified and effective work to meet the aspirations of the Yemeni people.”
“The Cabinet affirmed the UAE’s support for all efforts exerted by Saudi Arabia, through its leadership of the Arab Coalition, in order to stabilize Yemen and allow it to regain it role in the region,” the state WAM news agency reported.
The new arrangement calls for an equal number of ministries between the Southern Transitional Council (STC) and the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
The Kuwaiti Cabinet also welcomed the Riyadh Agreement on Monday and thanked Saudi Arabia for its efforts.
Yemen’s government was forced to flee the capital Sanaa when Houthi militants and their allies seized the city in 2014. 
The government and the STC are part of a military coalition against the Iran-backed Houthis, which also includes Saudi Arabia and the UAE.