Saudi Arabia’s new 100% hookah tax sparks fury
Blowing the coals

Saudi Arabia’s new 100% hookah tax sparks fury

Anger, confusion over new levy thrives on social media in country, where smoking water pipes is a popular pastime

A hookah is pictured at a restaurant in Saudi Arabia's western city of Jeddah on October 20, 2019 (AFP)
A hookah is pictured at a restaurant in Saudi Arabia's western city of Jeddah on October 20, 2019 (AFP)

A decision to impose a 100 percent tax on bills at restaurants that serve hookahs has ignited criticism on social media in Saudi Arabia, where the water pipes are a popular pastime.

The furor has also been fueled by confusion over how the tax is applied.

In the meantime, some restaurants have stopped offering hookahs, while others have lowered their prices to appease customers.

The government’s official gazette said earlier this month that the tax will apply to all tobacco products.

However the ruling from the ministry of rural and municipal affairs said it will apply “to the total invoice of the business serving tobacco products.”

A number of restaurants and cafes contacted by AFP said they believed that the tax applies to all table orders in any establishment that serves tobacco products, whether or not the order included hookahs.

An employee of a restaurant serves hookah in Saudi Arabia’s western city of Jeddah on October 20, 2019 (AFP)

The decision sparked an avalanche of criticism on social media networks where the Arabic hashtag “tax on hookah restaurants” is trending in the kingdom.

Many people posted photos of their restaurant bills, with totals of more than double the initial amount when taking into account the new 100% tax and a still-unpopular 5% value added tax which went into effect last year.

“Tobacco tax — controversy and confusion,” read a headline in the Al-Madina newspaper on Monday.

In the face of persistent budget deficits, the world’s top crude oil exporter has resorted to measures like cutting subsidies on fuel and power and imposing new taxes, including on cigarettes and soft drinks.

There were also suggestions that the new hookah tax could be a measure to protect public health.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report,

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