Arab countries trying to quit smoking

Arab countries trying to quit smoking
2 min read
Blog: Anti-tobacco campaigns are targeting the under-15s in a bid to stub out the habit.
About 20 percent of Arabs are smokers [AFP]

A recent study sponsored by the Saudi Ministry of Health found that 21.5 percent of males and 1.1 percent of females in the kingdom smoke.

The average smoking age was 19, with 8.9 percent of all smokers starting before they were 15.

A total of 7.3 percent of men and 1.3 percent of women said they smoked shisha - a traditional water pipe.

According to figures from the World Health Organisation, Saudi Arabia is only slightly above the global average when it comes to smoking prevalence. However, it tops the list of Arab countries addicted to tobacco - along with Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, according to research by the US-based Insitute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

Lebanon has the most smoking women among Arab countries, with the latest figures from the WHO showing that up to 31 percent of females aged 13 and over were smokers. These figures do not include shisha smokers.

The eastern Mediterranean region has one of the highest number of smokers under 15. About 20 percent of all Arabs are smokers, spending billions of dollars on tobacco, and much more on direct and indirect health and productivity costs associated with smoking.

Many Arab countries have launched anti-tobacco campaigns, enacted bans on public smoking and selling tobacco to minors, and forced tobacco companies to place warnings on the packaging of their products.

However, such laws are poorly enforced, and in some cases, they have been relaxed under pressure from certain interest groups, according to reports in the Lebanese daily newspaper The Daily Star.

There is nothing in the Arab world as strict as the effective measures taken by many governments in the developed world regarding the presentation and labelling of tobacco product. The European Commission, for example, has set maximum limits for tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide yields of cigarettes and requires the industry to report on ingredients in tobacco products.

Another problem is the relatively cheap price of tobacco products in the Arab world, which makes it accessible to people of any income bracket.

The poorly regulated shisha water pipe, which is very popular among Arabs, adds more numbers to the cigarette-smoking population, and is thought to be equally harmful - if not more so.