(MENAFN - Arab News) Many Jeddah coffee shop owners said they were harmed by the decision of the Jeddah Mayor's Office to start enforcing the ban on serving shisha at cafes and restaurants.
Lawyer Ahmad Alkhaled Al-Sudairi said the Mayor's Office cannot legally close shops that started their business before the ban. Serving shisha at these shops is important for owners to cover their investment, not to mention paying off the loans many of them have taken from banks to help them establish their businesses, he said.
Saeed Al-Khaldi, co-owner of a caf, said the mayoralty's decision has outlawed the service that brings 60 percent of the shop's daily revenues.
"I borrowed from banks and it took me a long time getting economic consultations and studying the feasibility of the project," Al-Khaldi said. "The shocking decision made me close down the shop for now. I am losing money and if the situation continues I may get into legal trouble and eventually be jailed (because of debts)."
Khaled Al-Madini, owner of a caf north of Jeddah, thinks the decision was the right one "because it aims to preserve public health." He only calls for a grace period to pay off his loan.
Al-Sudairi, the lawyer, said the Mayor's Office should either reverse its decision or compensate the losing shop owners and payoff their loans.
"If the reason behind the decision is to combat pollution, smoke emitting from one diesel vehicle equals those from a thousand shishas. And if it is smokers' health, the mayoralty is not the custodian of people's health. Let anyone smoke as long as they do not harm others," he argued.
"Smoking shisha is a custom we had for ages and banning it is annoying to people who have no cinemas, no theaters and no parks to go to," he said.
Hijab Al-Thiabi, owner of a company that provides commercial services to businessmen, said shisha is the main service that cafes depend on.
Investors put huge efforts studying their projects before they launch them.
This requires the mayoralty to either compensate them or give them a grace period of at least five years to allow them to get out of the business.
Otherwise there will be an economic problem given the expensive rents of cafes especially the ones near the beach and those on main streets, he said.
Al-Thiabi believes the ban would have a negative effect on people too. Many people go regularly to these places to smoke shisha and many come from out of Jeddah for the beach, where they smoke shisha.
"I do not encourage smoking, but I speak out from an economic angle. Shisha sales make up no less than 60 percent of a cafe's revenues," he said.
Dr. Saleh Al-Ansari, assistant family medicine professor, said the decision to ban shisha in cafes is one that has been implemented in many countries as part of a public health measure.
"They are right because they are protecting people's health. The freedom of a smoker ends when it comes to other people's freedom," he said.