Several restaurants at Katara Cultural Village say their businesses have taken a nosedive following a ban on serving shisha in public areas that management enacted in January.
While two eateries continue offering the service, albeit in a limited fashion, one restaurant has been told to take shisha entirely off the menu.
Since then, “our sales (have been) down by around 40 to 50 percent,” a supervisor at Armenian-Lebanese restaurant Mamig told Doha News today.
The representative added that the new rules were hurting the atmosphere of the restaurants and the area, where young people often go after a busy day to unwind, smoke and chat.
Late last year, Katara Cultural Village management announced they would be banning shisha smoking in public across its restaurants and cafes for health reasons.
The decision came amid a push from doctors and authorities in Qatar and across the Gulf to limit the public’s consumption of shisha, which is considered by many in the Arab world as a cultural pastime, rather than a bad habit.
According to a recent report, smoking rates are on the rise in Qatar. Some 12 percent of the country’s population aged 15 and above said they currently smoke tobacco. That’s up from 10 percent in 2013, the latest Global Adult Tobacco Study found.
Included in that report is what is believed to be the the first available figures on shisha smoking in Qatar. Nearly 3.4 percent of adults said they are current shisha smokers. That includes 4.9 percent of men and 1.6 percent of women.
While some perceive shisha-smoking to be less harmful than cigarettes, studies have shown that’s not the case.
Some health researchers say a shisha smoker will inhale more tobacco than a cigarette smoker in one puff. Doctors in Doha have also said shisha could be 10 times worse than smoking cigarettes.
While shisha has been completely banned in Mamig, other restaurants and cafes in Katara that offer shisha have found ways of continuing to offer it on their menus.
For example, Sukar Pasha Ottoman Lounge has restricted the shisha service to tents set up facing the beach.
But customers have to rent the tent at a high cost, which has driven away some of the restaurant’s regulars.
”Some of the customers find the prices too expensive or the waiting list too long and they head to Khan Farouk,” an employee at the restaurant told Doha News.
Renting a tent ranges from QR500 for a majilis to QR2,000 for a “closed” tent that includes air-conditioning, a television and sofas.
On a more positive note, the employee said that the restaurant has won over some customers who are attracted to the now more child-friendly, “non-shisha” restaurant.
At Khan Farouk Tarab Café, an employee told Doha News that they also are seeing less customers, despite converting the designated family area inside the restaurant into a shisha smoking area.
“We still have a long waiting list of people wanting to sit in the shisha area almost every night and sometimes they get tired and leave,” he said. “Around 80 percent of our customers smoke shisha.”
While smoking cigarettes and shisha in most closed spaces is illegal in Qatar, enforcement of the law is lax, and many people are regularly observed to be smoking inside hotels, malls, restaurants and cafes.
However, the employee at Khan Farouk argued that they are abiding by the law because the room is not a closed area. “There’s a back door to the shisha area, that we keep open to let the smoke out,” he said.
For its part, the Mamig manager said that the restaurant’s request to dedicate a few indoor tables for smoking shisha was denied.
The restaurant used to reserve the upper floor and outside area to smokers only, away from non-smoker customers.
Attempts to ban shisha
For the past several months, authorities have discussed a stricter anti-smoking law, but there appears to have been little tangible progress.
The law, which has been under discussion for several years, would raise fines on shops caught selling tobacco to minors and give malls the power to fine those found smoking on their premises, among other measures.
Meanwhile, attempts to restrict where shisha can be smoked have produced mixed results at best.
For example, in 2013, restaurants and cafes in the Souq Waqif were told to stop serving shisha indoors and to divide their outdoor premises into smoking and non-smoking areas.
But the rule was quickly retracted after managers of shisha-serving outlets complained that queues of people were waiting to smoke in the designated section while non-smoking tables remained empty.
Meanwhile, back in Katara, there are no signs that the rules will be eased anytime soon, even though one restauranteur said the operators of the cultural village seem aware of its impact on businesses in the area.
“Some people in management come here to smoke shisha themselves and see firsthand how much our business has gone down, but that has not changed anything,” a Khan Farouq employee said.