UAE

UAE health ministry clarifies disciplinary actions against smokers in tobacco-free workplaces

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Firms said disciplinary actions against staff smoking at the workplace could include verbal warnings, written reprimands and temporary suspension
Image Credit: Pixabay

Dubai: The Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) has clarified the disciplinary actions against employees violating the tobacco-free workplace guidelines that it released on June 10.

The ministry’s guidebook for government departments and private companies provides instructions for managers and employees on establishing a smoke-free environment, detailing procedures for handling violations, and offering steps to assist employees in quitting smoking.

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In tobacco-free workplaces, smoking is not allowed anywhere in the organisation, including outdoor areas and parking areas or inside vehicles. In case of deliberate violation of the smoking prohibition procedures within the facility while being aware of them, disciplinary actions must be taken against the violating party, according to the guide.

With several companies saying they were awaiting clarity on the enforcement and disciplinary actions, Gulf News reached out to the Ministry, following which it clarified that the tobacco-free guidelines for workplaces are advisory regulations for all workplaces.

The Ministry said it had issued the guide in line with the World Health Organisation’s recommendations and the UAE’s commitment to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

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Disciplinary actions

Regarding the disciplinary actions against the violators, the Ministry said: “Violating the ‘No Smoking Policy’ is considered as any administrative violation and is subject to each organisation’s or ministry’s actions.”

MoHAP pointed out that the guideline has some suggestions depending on whether the smoker is an employee or an external customer seeking a service.

“If they refuse to comply with the procedures, disciplinary actions must be taken against employees violating the facility’s smoking prohibition procedures. If the violators are visitors, and if they do not leave the building even after a warning, actions normally taken by the facility in respect of illegal behaviours must apply,” says the guidebook.

Reward system?

The Ministry also revealed that it was considering a mechanism to reward the establishments going totally smoke-free as per the new guidelines.

“This idea is under discussion with relevant parties, and surely can be applied in the future,” the Ministry said in its response.

While releasing the guide, MoHAP stated that preventing smoking in workplaces is a commitment to preserving the public health of workers and visitors in these facilities and support achieving the UAE Vision 2031.

No safe level

The Ministry has also sought to dispel the myths about “safe levels” of indirect tobacco smoke – stating there is none.

Indirect tobacco smoke is the smoke that fills restaurants, offices, or other closed places when people burn tobacco products, such as cigarettes, midwakh (elongated pipe), and shisha (water pipes).

Tobacco smoke contains more than 4,000 toxic chemicals, including at least 250 identified as harmful and 50 as carcinogens.

Scientific studies and research have demonstrated that exposure to passive smoking increases the risk of critical conditions, such as coronary artery disease, angina pectoris, asthma attacks, lung cancer, sudden infant death syndrome, and respiratory diseases in childhood.

Emissions from any form of tobacco smoking or heating pose a health risk to individuals surrounding the smoker, as particles of heavy metals persist in the air for long periods.

Many assume that proper ventilation can eliminate the health risks associated with passive smoking, but scientific evidence confirms that ventilation systems only remove the smell and visible aspects of smoke, not the toxic substances causing cancer.

Since there is no safe level of exposure to indirect tobacco smoke, ventilation systems are not an acceptable choice, and designating a room, space or closed place for smoking is, therefore, against the law. As such, the only way to provide effective protection against passive smoking exposure consists, in the first place, in preventing people from inhaling indirect smoke, the ministry explained in the guidebook.

How firms reacted

Following the issuance of the Ministry’s guidelines, many private companies told Gulf News they are revising their policies to establish tobacco-free workplaces. Companies that spoke to Gulf News said they are preparing to implement a blanket ban and enforce disciplinary actions against violators.

Several firms had already restricted smoking inside buildings but designated outdoor smoking areas. However, with the new guidelines, even outdoor smoking areas are not permitted. Some companies are in the process of introducing the changes outlined in the Ministry’s guidebook.

“We are actively reviewing the new recommendations regarding designated smoking areas,” said Sandesh Divagar, corporate sales manager at an education and smart classroom solution provider.

Jessie Joy, senior HR and admin manager at a digital marketing company, highlighted support for employees wanting to quit smoking such as counselling services, nicotine replacement medications, and smoking cessation programmes.

Disciplinary actions for violators being mulled by companies vary, ranging from verbal and written warnings to suspension and termination of employment.

Betzy Varghese, HR manager at a freight management company, said: “We have a rewards system for employees, and one form of disciplinary action can be deducting points in the reward scheme. We could think of keeping a smoking penalty box and use the fines collected for some charity or welfare activities.”

Meanwhile, Divagar said actions could include verbal warnings, written reprimands, temporary suspension, or in severe or repeated cases, termination of employment.

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