Jordan: Cafe owners incensed as argileh permits go up in smoke
Café owners and clientele expressed their outrage over a Greater Amman Municipality (GAM) decision to stop issuing and renewing argileh licences in the capital.
GAM said last week it is committed to implementing the Public Health Law which prohibits smoking in public areas.
“The municipality received an official letter from the Health Ministry in late 2010, saying that we should not issue new licences for cafés serving argileh and stop renewing them,” Mervat Mheirat, director of GAM’s health supervision department, told The Jordan Times over the phone.
Since then, GAM has not issued new licences, according to Mheirat.
But Khader Issa said he opened his café in the Bayader area two years ago, and the decision will have a negative impact on his business.
“Since the decision was taken a few years ago, GAM should have alerted me... so that I could have chosen to invest in another project,” Issa added, noting that he still has not covered the expenses of his café.
Mohammad Abbadi, another café owner, said there are more than 5,000 cafés in the capital that serve argileh, claiming that this decision will force most of them to close down.
“One cannot imagine anyone opening a new café without serving argileh to customers. It has become something essential for people these days,” he noted, warning that the decision will put many out of jobs.
“There are around five employees working at my café. I will lay off four of them if I stop serving argileh,” Abbadi asserted.
Issa agreed, adding that 80 per cent of his business depends on argileh.
“I will lose most of my clients. The majority of my customers come to smoke argileh.”
He noted that these cafés are the only place where people can relax as “there is a severe lack of entertainment in Amman”.
The water pipe, also known as shishah, is served in a wide variety of tobacco flavours including liquorice, apple, watermelon, lemon, mint, grape, cherry, strawberry and blends.
Smoking one argileh is equivalent to smoking 15 to 19 cigarettes, which increases the risk of developing diseases such as lung cancer, according to the Health Ministry.
The Public Heath Law was enforced in the Kingdom’s shopping malls and Queen Alia International Airport in March 2009, and in fast-food restaurants in June of the same year.
A Cabinet decision prohibiting smoking in ministries and public institutions went into force on May 25, 2010.
According to the law, smoking is prohibited in public places, which include hospitals, healthcare centres, schools, cinemas, theatres, libraries, museums, public and non-governmental buildings, public transport vehicles, airports, closed playgrounds, lecture halls and any other location to be determined by the health minister.
Ahmad Eid, a university student, said many people cannot smoke argileh at home, so cafés are the only place where they can do so.
“Some families do not allow their children to smoke in front of them,” he noted.
If the decision is enforced, Eid said he will stop going to cafés.
Saif Awamleh, a regular café client, said he is a big football fan and likes to smoke while watching his favourite team play.
“If I cannot smoke argileh at the café, then there is no need to go out because I can prepare coffee or tea at home,” he said.
Although Linda Khoury, the owner of Fann wa Chai in Jabal Luweibdeh, does not serve argileh in her café, she is against the decision.
“Argileh has become part of our culture and you simply cannot put an end to it. Also, many tourists like to go to specific cafés to smoke argileh because they like to experience this special culture,” she noted.
Khoury proposed that GAM define the number of argilehs that a café is allowed to serve in accordance with its size, while Abbadi suggested that the municipality stop licensing new argileh and coffee places and renew the licences of existing ones.
Issa said people who object to smoking can resort to cafés and areas in the capital that do not serve argileh.
“You don’t go to a café serving argileh unless you want to smoke.”