Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat – A public ban on smoking in Jeddah, which includes a ban on the popular Saudi pastime of smoking water pipes, known as shisha, in Arabic, has had a huge impact on the city’s tourism sector. A Jeddah Chamber of Commerce official, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, revealed that restaurant and café sales had witnessed a sharp 90 percent decline in sales following the Shisha ban, resulting in heavy losses estimated at several hundred millions Saudi riyals.
The source also revealed that the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce’s Reception Committee had received complaints from 30 separate cafes and restaurants regarding the ban. The companies have requested a 5-year extension to the ban in order to get their financial affairs in order, particularly in light of the huge losses suffered by the Jeddah service sector in the wake of this public smoking ban.
The Jeddah Chamber of Commerce official also revealed that numerous cafes and restaurants that have flouted the ban have been forcibly closed, rather than receiving lesser punishments such as warnings or fines. He added that open-air cafes that serve shisha are being shut down, despite the fact that the public smoking ban only applies to in-door establishments.
The source informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the rush to apply the smoking ban had resulted in the closure of some 50 cafes and restaurants in just one Jeddah district over a period of 48 hours.
For his part, Adel al-Makki, a member of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce’s Reception Committee asserted that the committee comprehensively supports the Shisha ban. He added that there was no need for any delay or extension prior to the implementation of the Shisha ban to allow café and restaurant owners to arrange their financial affairs, adding the public smoking ban had been implemented one week after it was issued.
Al-Makki, speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, also revealed that the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce had received a barrage of complaints from café and restaurant owners following the Shisha ban and its adverse financial effects.
He acknowledged that the ban would affect Jeddah’s tourism sector and future investments in the city, adding this would result in greater competition between Saudi cities to provide the best services. However al-Makki also expressed fears that this smoking ban could result in pulling investment away from the city of Jeddah, which would create other economic issues.
Darwish al-Khadra, deputy chairman of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce Reception Committee, informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the Shisha ban was the right decision, linking this to health care issues and harm caused by smoking. He stressed that it would be better for Saudi citizens to stop smoking shisha in public in order to preserve their health, as well as the health of others due to the results of secondhand smoke.
Al-Khadra did not deny that restaurants and cafes were suffering financial losses as a result of the shisha ban, however he stressed that ultimately this decision is in the public interest. He also asserted that this Shisha ban would also stop the opening of new Shisha cafes in Jeddah which represent a health risk to Saudi youth in particular.
He told Asharq Al-Awsat “despite the fact that I had asked for an extension, lasting no more than 3 years, for cafes and restaurants…when I studied the health effects of [smoking] shisha tobacco, I changed my mind and became convinced of the importance of this decision” adding “I have taken the decision to only serve food and drink, even if this extension were granted.”