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Smoke and Mirrors: What is a café in the UAE without sheesha?

Smoke and Mirrors: What is a café in the UAE without sheesha?

Are we really saying goodbye to the city’s Arabic café staple that is the sheesha? Good for the lungs, bad for business. How will cafés offset this imminent sheesha ban?

June 12, 2011 4:41 by

An article on Emirates 24/7 this weekend, suggested that coffee shops in the UAE’s towns and residential areas that are “relying heavily on sheesha smokers” will have to either leave to a less congested location or shut down altogether (not exactly ideal proposals for any business).

The move is said to be part of an anti-smoking law which will reportedly be enforced soon. Once the federal law has been ratified, cafés will have six months to make the make or break decision.

What’s different about Sheesha (or Hookah as some of you may call it) is that it has become so ingrained in the Middle Eastern culture. It’s completes the picture of a serene social setting across the region.

This isn’t a surprise, however. The UAE government has been slowly weaning the country out of its hard-to-break habit. Back in 2009, the municipality banned smoking shisha at beaches, parks and other family areas as part of moves to stamp out smoking in public places. And even earlier than that is the 2007 ban for youth under 20 years old to have Sheesha.

The UAE, for years, has been working on a federal law regulating tobacco and its uses, content and trade, in accordance with the World Health Organisation (WHO) Framework Convention of Tobacco Control (FCTC).

So should the law actually be enforced soon, how will these ‘sheesha cafés’ in? Well, they will have to take notes from their counterparts neighbouring Sharjah, which has banned Sheesha for years (from what Kipp could tell, the Sharjah ban is at least ten years old, from the last paragraph of this article).

“The law is clear…all these coffee shops which serve sheesha for its customers will have to shift outside residential areas to industrial zones,” Dr Widad Almaidour, director of the anti-smoking team at the Ministry of Health, was quoted as saying by Arabic language daily Al Ittihad.

The question that’s left is for business owners to figure out how they will offset this loss. Will most of them ply their trade out of the city and residences, when their business thrives on heavy pedestrian traffic? Or stick it out in the same location, competing on hot and cold beverages and snack foods?

Perhaps the added value of life entertainment? Or compete on ambience, service, pricing? Whatever it is, it will have to be really good since its customers will have to really make the effort to drive over so they can enjoy some ‘hubby-bubbly’.

Weaning off the city’s smoking habits is a good long-term thing. And one thing’s for sure, it’ll push more innovation in a country that needs an injection of creativity more than ever.

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