At a meeting of the GCC Tobacco Control Committee, with representatives from all six Gulf states, Dr Mahmoud Fikri, the undersecretary for health policy at the Ministry of Health, said the law was in the final stage of approval and awaiting cabinet approval.
But it has been at that stage since June, when the ministry submitted the regulation. Dr Fikri said implementing such a law was difficult.
“It is hard for things to run smoothly in this,” he said. “There are a lot of interests, and there are big companies today and a lot of other things that come into effect.
“When it came to implementation affected businesses did not all agree. Some said, ‘other countries don’t have this, so why do we have to?’”
When the law is implemented, tobacco farmers will have two years to stop production and tobacco factories three years. International companies would also be affected.
Dr Fikri told the officials from the other five GCC states that, “our main concern is to have legislation in agreement with all countries”.
Dr Wedad Al Maidoor, the head of the ministry’s tobacco control committee, previously said the regulations were taking so long to publish because the committee was awaiting responses from other sectors of government.
They included the Ministry of Health, the various emirate-level health authorities, Civil Defence, the municipalities and the Ministry of Economy.
Now it had incorporated those responses into its regulations, Dr Al Maidoor said yesterday, “we hope the law will come out soon. Now we are waiting”.
She urged Dr Fikri to speak to the minister in the hope of speeding up the process.
The meeting also considered the issue of tobacco tax. Last week the ministerial legislative committee had examined the possibility of a tax on tobacco and its derivatives. No further details were given.
In July, Dr Al Maidoor said she hoped to raise the price of cigarettes by 29 per cent, having previously expressed a desire to double it.
The representative from Kuwait pointed out that in Egypt, cigarette taxes had swelled government coffers and reduced the number of smokers.
But Dr Al Maidoor said there were no plans for the UAE to impose a tax on tobacco.
“Taxation would need a lot of time,” she said.
More needed to be done to stop children taking up the habit in the first place, the committee was told.
A 2010 GCC-wide study found that 40 per cent of teenagers between 13 and 15 smoked, compared with only 24 per cent in 2005.
Although there is a GCC-wide anti-smoking week, even those present knew little about it.
“When is this?” asked the Saudi official. “When it comes, I don’t even know.”
They agreed to change the timing of the week and keep it focused on children.
Four GCC countries, excluding the UAE and Kuwait, have banned imports of chewing tobacco.
But Dr Al Maidoor said it was already banned at some local levels and would soon be banned nationwide.