Shisha shops, cafes and restaurants are not included in a recent ban implemented by the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to anyone under 18, a Ministry of Health official said.
Khaled Mirghalani, spokesman at the Ministry of Health, also told Arab News enforcing such a ban to eliminate smoking among teens could prove fruitless due to the difficulty of monitoring commercial outlets.
He said: "There is still no clear directive of how shops, especially small shops, are to be monitored to ensure they are all upholding the ban."
Mirghalani did not give further details why shisha was not included in the ban.
Sulaiman bin Hamad Al-Buthe, director general of the Environmental Health Secretariat, warned shop owners that those found selling tobacco to underage customers would be fined SR 500 for each violation.
Ali Al-Zubadi, an employee at a shop selling shisha products, told Arab News he had no idea about the ban, claiming he was never informed about such a restriction.
He added: "I was not aware that we are being monitored or banned from selling shisha products to minors as we have not received any new information indicating this from the ministries or municipality."
He said he frequently sells various shisha flavors and products to adults and teens who like to smoke with family and friends. Mohammed Eyosh, an employee at another shisha shop, said: “After hearing about the ban on selling tobacco products to adolescents, I initially thought it could mean trouble for my business especially as we were coming into the tourist season, when I usually see a sales increase of at least 20 to 25 percent.”
He added he was relieved when he did not receive a ministry circular on the ban and was delighted after speaking to other shop owners and hearing that shisha shops, cafes and restaurants were not included.
The question still remains why shisha is not included in the ban.
The reason could very well date back to a myth from 16th century India where the shisha pipe was invented by a doctor during the reign of Mogul Emperor Akbar. The physician claimed when tobacco smoke is first passed through a small receptacle of water it is rendered harmless.
However, a report issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests smoking shisha is more harmful than cigarettes.
The report explained because smoking shisha may last 60 to 80 minutes, the smoker may be subjecting himself to as much smoke as a person continuously inhaling from 100 cigarettes.
In addition, the WHO found that water does not adequately remove all toxic substances such as carbon monoxide and nicotine, putting smokers at risk from heart, brain and respiratory illnesses.