A steep hike in fines for those caught smoking indoors in public areas such as shopping malls is among the recommendations approved by Qatar’s Advisory (Shura) Council yesterday.
During its weekly meeting, council members unanimously approved a new draft law that would more strictly regulate tobacco usage in the country, QNA reported.
The latest move follows years of discussion about tightening existing restrictions on smoking in Qatar.
The new proposals, which have been sent to the Cabinet for its approval, include raising the fine for people caught smoking in closed public areas to QR3,000 from the existing maximum of QR500.
Penalties for employees who allow people to smoke in their establishments would also become an offense punishable with a QR3,000 fine, the Peninsula reports.
If enacted, the provision could put pressure on coffee shop staff to take action against smokers.
Previously, many workers said they felt intimidated to reproach offenders, and that they are often ignored when they try to point out the law.
In Article 6 of the new draft law, members also recommended that tobacco should not be sold within 1km of schools and educational establishments, an increase from the current 500m restriction, Al Sharq reported.
It is already illegal to sell cigarettes or tobacco to children under the age of 18 in Qatar.
Other measures recommended by the Shura for adoption include:
- Raising customs duties of tobacco products from 2 percent to 5 percent, and spending that money on health education;
- Closing an establishment caught violating the new law for up to three months; and
- Publishing convictions of businesses in at least two daily newspapers, at the expense of the erring party.
In the event of a conviction for violating the law, a court can order confiscation, destroying or re-exporting of tobacco products and their derivatives, irrespective of the quantity.
The import and sale of electronic cigarettes has been banned in Qatar since 2013. The use of sweika and other chewing tobacco products will also be prohibited under the draft provisions.
Qatar authorities have for years been discussing introducing tougher anti-smoking measures to try to curb the habit, which appears to be increasingly popular despite all the health messages against it.
More than two years ago, the Shura Council was reportedly on the brink of approving stricter rules, such as raising fines for shops found selling cigarettes to kids to QR5,000 (instead of the current QR500 penalty) and closing down shops that repeatedly flout the law.
At the time, it was also proposing to increase the distance tobacco vendors are allowed to be from schools to 1km.
However, the law remained unchanged.
Qatar’s existing legislation governing smoking and the sale of tobacco dates back 14 years to Law No. 20 of 2002 on the Control of Tobacco and its Derivatives.
Under Article 10, smoking is prohibited in public places including public transport, schools, training and education centers, universities, hospitals and other health facilities, ministries, shops, cinemas, theaters, shopping malls, restaurants and other establishments that sell food.
Enclosed smoking areas may be established, but the law adds: “smoking areas in restaurants and similar places…may not be completely closed.”
Until recently, enforcement of this law has been lax and residents have often complained that people smoke in coffee shops inside malls and go unpunished.
It also launched a squad of inspectors to start patrolling the most popular malls and fine people on-the-spot for the offense.
These actions come as more people seem to be taking up smoking.
A 2014 government report found that 12 percent of adults (aged 15 plus) smoke, compared to around 10 percent in a separate study a year earlier.