Parents say despite ban, shop workers are trying to make a fast buck
Despite municipality banning the sale of cigarettes in groceries, families in Sharjah have complained that some of these outlets are selling them and other tobacco products to even minors on the sly.
Concerned residents urged the authorities to intensify surprise inspections, saying if not the owners, at least workers of some outlets are trying to make a fast buck at the cost of their children’s health. Many groceries are keeping cigarettes under the counter and selling them to children when no one is around. Some of them charge more money than the original prices.
Fourteen-year-old Boriya Jacob said that his friends usually call a grocery worker, who has the cigarettes hidden somewhere, and inform him that they need cigarettes. The worker would deliver the same when he feels it safe. Some children bribe adults to buy cigarette packets for them from other emirates.
A top Sharjah government official said the municipal council has already banned the sale of cigarettes and all types of tobacco products in the groceries in residential areas and around schools. The decision has been taken to prevent teenagers and children from taking to the dangerous habit of smoking which has spread among school students.
When Khaleej Times did a reality check at groceries, some of them were found abiding by the rule while workers of some others, not owners, trying to make money by selling cigarettes to children secretly.
Parents to blame
A grocery owner, who did not want his name published, urged the municipality to amend the rules and allow groceries to sell cigarettes to adults as the ban has reduced the customer turnout at the outlets even though cigarette sale is not that profitable.
Kutty, a grocery keeper, put the onus on the families. He said the parents should watch their children and raise them in a good manner. Most of the children learn smoking from their parents or they are exposed to passive smoking and their bodies are used to nicotine intake, he said.
The ban on cigarette sale in groceries alone would not solve the problem, as children would find their own ways to get cigarettes and smoke. “Many children under ten come to the shop to buy cigarettes for their mothers or fathers, but we have stopped the sale,” Kutty said.
Some residents suggested that the government should reduce tobacco imports to the country by 50 per cent to reduce availability and minimise smoking habit among children and adults alike.
Shaikha Rasha Al Qasimi, Head of the Health and Environment Department at the Sharjah Municipality, said the rules regarding the ban on cigarette sale in groceries have been spelt out clearly, and the penalties for offenders are stiff. The ban was enforced first in the groceries near schools and now has been widened to all groceries in residential areas.
The municipality is continuing its inspections at the groceries and monitoring them. The errant ones would face tough penalties ranging from hefty fines to closure, she said.
Sharjah is the first emirate to ban the sale of cigarettes to minors and then followed it up by banning cigarette sale in groceries and smoking in public areas.
Shaikha Rasha urged families to cooperate with the municipality to protect the health of their children by controlling them. “The ban and official decisions would not solve the problem without the cooperation of families, society and institutions,” she added.