LAHORE: Punjab Food Authority’s ban on smoking corners seems to be ‘mission impossible’. The move appreciated by anti-smoking groups has already sent shock waves among restaurant owners, who say their business will suffer if the ban imposed is implemented.

Shanawar Ali, manager of ‘Coffee Planet’ Johar Town Branch said “We want too corporate with the Punjab Food Authority or any such notification in this regard.

Coffee chain is fully on board about smoking effects but we have already made such arrangements with highly-advanced exhaust fans no smoke would be passed to the food area,” Shanawar said.

“The ban on smoking corners will shut down the burgeoning café culture,” he said. 

Lahore is the cultural hub of Pakistan. The culture of sit-eat-smoke in cafés and restaurants largely operated by young entrepreneurs is the new face of this city’s changed culture.

Punjab Food Authority has directed restaurants to immediately close all smoking corners in the premises of restaurants. However, there is apparently no work plan to ensure implementation of this ban.

The Nation conducted a survey which showed that majority of restaurants and cafés were not aware of ban on the smoking corners.

It is pertinent to mention that the decision was unanimously taken in PFA’s 26th Board Meeting.

President Lahore Restaurants’ Association, Dr Kaiser Rafque and owner of Options Restaurant, talking to The Nation criticized the ban, adding that no relevant stakeholders were invited and we are completely out of policy making in this regard.

“We are fully aware about the damages of the second-hand smoking effects as there is no risk-free level of exposure but café and restaurants have already made such arrangements to prevent possible effects on non-smokers.

“I think it is ill-planned move and the ban on smoking corners is not more than just issuing a press release,” Dr Kaisar said.  

The handout issued of PFA stated the move was taken for availability of healthy food at food points, restaurants and shops by overcoming the food safety issues. Dr Kaisar said Punjab government wants to eliminate smoking then it should ban tobacco.

“Government is receiving tax in terms of selling cigarettes but it prevents café and restaurants not to sell cigarettes. This is not making any sense.

“Government should talk to relevant stakeholders before implementing any plan,” he added. 

DG PFA Noorul Amin Mengal said that all restaurants are bound to display notices in visible fonts for customers informing that smoking is strictly prohibited there. He said that board has taken this decision to keep safe the restaurants environment and food that was being affected due to the smoke of cigarette and other tobacco products. “Cigarette smoke is injurious to health and indirectly affects the health of people including children who come to enjoy the food,” he explained.

“Smoking is part of our culture, especially in Lahore’s café and restaurants," Ahmed Hasan, student of University of Central Punjab said while he enjoyed the ambience of café Coffee Planet basement that has very dim light.

"What is the matter with the government? If you are allowing people buy cigarettes then allow them to smoke in café and separated –smoking areas in restaurants.

“I like to smoke while I am having my favourite Latte coffee," Ahmed said.

Ahmed’s friend Mustafa, who does not smoke endorsed the government’s move to end the smoking corners.

“But I have one concern if these smoking corners are shut down then where will  thousands of people like my friend Ahmed smoke the cigarettes,” Mustafa said. 

“There should be separate smoking section which should be sealed off by glass partitions,” he suggested.

Haroon Khan, owner of Social Lounge said, government should come up with a comprehensive plan and should have taken on board the stakeholders so that their businesses may not be affected.  

Adeel Malik, owner of The Passion café said they were ready to cooperate with government but it should also have taken into account their point of view.

PFA spokesman Hafiz Qaisar Abbas said the ban has been imposed and its implementation will be ensured. “There is no segregation among cafes and restaurants. We will implement the ban regardless of its status,” he said.