Undercover tobacco ‘spies’ fine people breaking anti-smoking laws in UAE

Published February 17th, 2016 - 10:25 GMT
Smokers are under watching in UAE. (Shutterstock)
Smokers are under watching in UAE. (Shutterstock)

Stephen Read is one of those non-smokers who can't stand the sight or smell of smoking. If he see's someone freely dropping their cigarette butt on the floor, he has no qualms about flagging it up to the perpetrator.

"I'm that person who moans if people smoke around me, and I have no issues telling people to go do it elsewhere, especially if I'm with my family."

For Read, news of undercover 'secret agents' roaming the streets of Dubai to caution and fine people flouting federal anti-tobacco law and by-laws, is music to ears."I think it's great. I've not seen one of these inspectors, yet, but if I do, I'd shake their hand," he said.

On Monday, a senior health official told Khaleej Times individuals found flouting certain rules on smoking will be fined Dh500, with some fines reaching up to Dh1 million where company violations are concerned.

Though the law came into effect in 2014, implementation has been lax, however this new initiative is set to change that.

For occasional smoker, Bea Raquedan, the 'secret agents' will keep smokers on their toes.

"I smoke about five or six cigarettes a day but I always ensure I smoke in a designated area when I have my cigarette break at work. No one wants to fork out Dh500 if it can be easily avoided."She said there is also "no excuse" for people to flout the rules as there are plenty of designated smoking areas across Dubai."This will just promote better discipline among smokers."

Raquedan's colleague, Barbara Braganza, who hails from the Philippines, said it will be interesting to see if people abide by the laws now these inspectors are set to hit the streets.

"In the Philippines we have rules like this but so many people continue to break the rules, especially on highways. It is common to see cigarette butts being flung out the window."

Both ladies agree the fine amounts are "fair" and they believe extra amounts should be enforced for multiple violations.

"If you're caught several times, you should receive a harsher fine. It's all about keeping the city clean," Braganza said.

Forty-five-year-old Mohammed Bashir is an honest man. He said he is one of many who is "sometimes" guilty of throwing his cigarette butt on the street."I see many people here doing it, so I do it. I can't always find an ashtray to stub it out."

But news of 'smoker spies' prowling the streets will definitely force him to change his habits, he said."Dh500 is a large chunk of my monthly salary so I don't want to risk it anymore. It is not worth it."

With a Dh500 to Dh10,000 fine to be enforced for selling tobacco products to those below the age of 18, tobacconist, Shamshuddin Abbas, said he always asks for identification if an individual looks underage. "It's just not worth the risk. Our rule is: if they look under 18, ask for proof of ID. If they cannot produce a valid document then it's no sale. We would rather turn a customer away and lose the sale of one packet of cigarettes than incur a fine of up to Dh10,000."

A former smoker, Abbas is all for the presence of undercover inspectors on the streets of Dubai because "it will improve the look of the city, and in some cases, encourage people to smoke less".

By Kelly Clarke

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