Muna Al Fuzai

Teenagers cannot be served shisha in Kuwait under law 15/1995, which prohibits the sale or provision of any type of tobacco to people under 21 years of age. The penalty for offending is a KD 50 fine, which is doubled for every repeated offense. But teenagers can always send the maid or driver to the local shop to buy it for them - prohibiting it is not a solution, because the forbidden fruit is sweetest.

Now a new rule by the Interior Ministry decrees that expatriates who serve shisha to adolescents in cafes will be subject to deportation from Kuwait. Meanwhile the cafe owner will be referred for investigation. But the expat worker will do what he is ordered. If he is a shisha cafe worker, he has no power to deny customers’ requests - he can be fired if he does so. He is not a policeman investigating customers’ age, and if he tries to ask young customers to produce an ID, he faces the very real threat of a beating.

Owners are not fathers deciding who comes to their cafes. Most are not necessarily available 24/7, so even if they commit to following the law, they won’t be able to all the time. According to the law, we are punishing expats instead of digging deeply into the roots of the problem or thinking about how to overcome it, especially amongst teenagers. We are not engaging doctors, psychologists, parents or teachers to analyze the phenomenon. Threatening the expat community with deportation will not reduce the number of young smokers.

I understand the state is obliged to protect the youth from harm, but delving into the reasons behind the spread of smoking amongst adolescents is imperative. I believe parents bear responsibility too, and should be subject to these laws rather than cafe owners and expat workers. Parents are role models, and children naturally imitate their behavior, whether good or bad.

If a child playing football in the middle of the road is hit by a car, should we punish the driver? Or should we punish the parents, who did not take care of their kid by keeping an eye on him or explaining that the road is not the right place to play? For the record, in some areas of Kuwait, you can find kids playing on the road. This is not only dangerous, but parents must be punished severely for allowing it. It puts innocent lives in danger.

Parents must monitor their children and protect them from risks. This is the key to tackling this problem. Awareness campaigns directed towards parents are necessary. The rate of heart problems and deaths due to teenage smoking should be publicized. We need statistics and data that demonstrate the danger of this behavior if not controlled.

By Muna Al-Fuzai

[email protected]