The city government will not launch its crackdown on smoking in public places, including cafes that serve sheesha, until the end of next week, officials said.
Officials of the Environmental Protection Department said that the crackdown had been delayed because they had been busy with cases in the Supreme Court and at the Lahore High Court’s green bench, and in preparations for No Tobacco Day on May 31. The department is arranging a walk for the day to be led by District Coordination Officer Noorul Amin Mengal and Parliamentary Health Secretary Dr Saeed Elahi.
On May 17, the DCO announced that the city government was planning to implement the ban on smoking in public places under the Prohibition of Smoking and Protection of Non-Smokers Health Ordinance of 2002. He said the government would spend a week spreading awareness of the ill effects of second-hand smoke, especially sheesha, and then begin checking restaurants, cafes and other public places such as the General Bus Stand in Badami Bagh for compliance.
The city government advertised the ban in the newspapers, but has delayed the start of raids by inspectors.
Tariq Zaman, the personal staff officer to the DCO, said that the crackdown would begin some time next week. He said that they would announce the date on Thursday or Friday. He said that around 190 cafes that served sheesha had been identified and would be inspected.
Deputy District Officer (Environment) Younis Zahid said that orders from the DCO had been received, but environmental officials were unable to start inspections because they were busy with court cases and preparing for No Tobacco Day. He said that he had been given a list of 80 cafes to inspect initially.
Members of the Restaurant and Cafe Association of Punjab (RCAP) met with the DCO on May 19 and sought concessions on the ban, suggesting that they be allowed to set up separate spaces for smokers, or at least allow smoking outdoors.
Zaman said that the cafe and restaurant owners had not been granted any concession. He said that they would first have to give up serving sheesha and comply with the ban, after which the city government might consider granting individual businesses permission to set up separate rooms or outdoor spaces for smoking.
Mehboobur Rehman, the general manager of Jammin Java Café, said that the government should give establishments the option of allowing smoking in certain areas.
“The livelihoods of hundreds of families depend on sheesha cafes. The government should not toy with us like this,” he said.
Sikandar, the owner of Hot Fusion, said that the DCO’s staff had not responded to their suggestions for a compromise. He said that people running business according to the rules should not be bothered.
City government officials said that some cafes claimed not to allow people to smoke sheesha indoors, but permitted it during the day with the justification that it was too hot to sit outside.
Dr Shahid Malik, assistant professor at the Institute of Public Health and the central joint secretary of the Pakistan Medical Association, said that studies of the effects of sheesha smoke had established that it was harmful to health, particularly the lungs. He said it could also become an addiction causing further physical and social problems. He said that he was unaware of any studies comparing the effects of sheesha and cigarette smoke.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 29th, 2012.