LAHORE - Punjab Food Authority’s ban on smoking corners seems to be a ‘mission impossible’. The move appreciated by anti-smoking groups has already sent shockwaves 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 to cooperate with the Punjab Food Authority or any such notification in this regard.” “Coffee chain is fully aware of effects of smoking but we have already made arrangements to minimize these effects. With highly advanced exhaust fans, no smoke will pass 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.

The Punjab Food Authority has directed restaurants to immediately close all smoking corners on 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 here that the decision was unanimously taken at PFA’s 26th Board Meeting. President of Lahore Restaurants Association and owner of Options Restaurant, Dr Kaiser Rafique, criticised the ban while talking to The Nation. He said stakeholders were not invited and “we are completely out of policymaking in this regard”.

“We are fully aware of effects of passive smoking, as there is no risk-free level of exposure. Cafés and restaurants have made arrangements to prevent effects of passive smoking on non-smokers,” he said.  “I think it is an ill-planned move and the ban on smoking corners is not more than issuance of a press release,” says Dr Kaisar.

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

“The government is collecting tax on sale of cigarettes but it prevents cafés and restaurants from selling cigarettes. This does not make sense.”

“The government should talk to stakeholders before implementing any such plan,” he added.

PFA Director General Noorul Amin Mengal said that all restaurants were bound to display notices in visible fonts for customers informing them that smoking was strictly prohibited there. He said the board had taken this decision to ensure a safe environment at restaurants. “Cigarette smoke is injurious to health and indirectly affects health of people, especially children, who come to enjoy food,” he explained.

“Smoking is part of our culture, especially in Lahore’s cafés and restaurants," said Ahmed Hasan, student of the University of Central Punjab, at Coffee Planet. "What is the problem with the government? If you are allowing people to buy cigarettes then allow them to smoke in cafés 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 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 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, “The 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 the government but it should also have taken into account their point of view.

PFA spokesman Hafiz Qaisar Abbas said the ban had 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.