Government inspectors are touring cities in the Eastern Province, penalizing cafes that fail to meet official regulations. Smoking water-pipe or shisha is a popular pastime in the country, and the latest crackdown follows reports that the government is considering a nationwide ban on smoking in public places. Saudi Arabia has previously taken steps in this direction, banning shisha cafes in Jeddah last year.
Dr. Khalifa Al-Sa’ad, General Director of the Environmental Health Department in the Eastern Province, informed Asharq Al-Awsat that a number of shisha cafes have been issued a deadline to comply with government restrictions or face closure, adding that a number of cafes have already been forcibly closed after their deadline passed. Arab News reported on Thursday that at least three popular shisha cafes in the Eastern Province were shut down following a raid carried out by the municipality.
Dr. Sa’ad told Asharq Al-Awsat: “We will not show leniency in this regard, nor will we set another deadline.” He confirmed that the latest crackdown comes in response to a Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs decree which stipulated that shisha cafes must be moved outside residential areas.
“These cafes must also be at least 500 yards from the nearest mosque or school. However, the majority of cafes are in breach of this regulation, so some have been shut down, while others have been granted a deadline to rectify their status,” Dr. Sa’ad said.
He confirmed that “this week, we are conducting an intense inspection campaign and are determined to ensure that no illegal cafes remain.”
Sa’ad justified the tough measures enacted in the Eastern Province by citing the “proliferation of shisha cafes in residential areas and the effect this is having on local students and teenagers, as well as local residents in general.”
Asked about the response to the municipalities inspection campaigns, he said: “Our plan for this week is for 70 percent of shisha cafes to comply with regulations, in the hope that all cafes will comply with government regulations in the near future.”
There are an estimated 150 shisha cafes in the Eastern Province capital of Dammam alone, in addition to approximately 150 other shisha cafes across the region.
Smoking shisha is widely believed to be less harmful than smoking cigarettes, but a recent medical study by the American University of Beirut concluded that the effects of shisha smoking are actually more serious. The study also confirmed that second-hand shisha smoke is far more hazardous than second-hand cigarette smoke.
Recent medical reports claimed that shisha tobacco, which is usually flavored with molasses, contains on average 4,000 chemicals, including 60 known carcinogens. Medical experts say that shisha is a major cause of cancer in the Middle East.