Ajman Ajman has banned small groceries and other small shops from selling cigarettes under a government public health drive.
The sale will be allowed only in shopping malls, petrol pumps and big stores.
The municipality has said in recent notices and online statements that “for health protection of all residents” groceries can no longer sell tobacco products.
However, shops outside “residential areas” and “big outlets” in any location can continue business as usual.
Details of the “public health and safety community initiative” reveal “all facilities”, regardless of location “who are interested to continue tobacco sales” must now seek “proper permission” from the municipality.
It was not clear in last week’s notice what the “applied procedures” for selling cigarettes are, but some groceries told XPRESS they include a new Dh6,000 annual payment as part of the business licence. However, this could not be immediately confirmed.
According to the municipality website, those caught breaking rules will be fined Dh10,000 and repeat violations will mean a 30-day shop closure on top of the fine.
Some corner shops have already removed cigarette packs from their shelves; others have been told to clear remaining stocks by month-end and not restock without a go-ahead from the municipality’s commercial licensing division.
They must now visit the division for a sales clearance, where the purported payment is to be made. Cashiers at large stores like Hoot Centre and Al Seef Mall said they were unaware of any new cigarette rules.
“If this ban is about health, then why only go after small shops? I will have to sell about 90 extra cigarette packs a day to make a profit if I pay the Dh6,000 fee,” said a shopkeeper in Hamadiya area who was given a “public circular” notice dated February 12 by the municipality.
“We cannot cope; all the business will go to the big chains.”
A 36-year-old British villa resident of Al Zahra neighbourhood, who did not wish to be named, said: “I cannot see how selectively applying the ban helps public health. This is not going to work if the point is to discourage people from smoking. All it does is make you [smokers] go to the nearest ‘big shop.’ And why is it OK to sell packs in ‘non-residential’ areas?”
An immediate comment from the municipality’s public health and environment department, which is spearheading the campaign, was not available.