Saudi Arabia - rid country of public smoking zones..

September 16, 2009 - Most of the teens who smoke don’t show the habit while in educational institutions or at home; a majority of them smoke in public places where there are no restrictions. The setting up of smoking zones in public places has also sort of legalized smoking, a situation teenage smokers have taken advantage of, according to 19-year-old Tanweer Chowdhury from Bangladesh.

Smoking places are now located in shopping complexes, restaurants, hospitals and other public places. “Smoking has been legalized ever since, and it is quite impossible to make people give up smoking because of the presence of these zones,” he said.

Parents who are unable to convince their school going boys to quit smoking suggest that like alcohol and narcotics, cigarettes should also be banned in Saudi Arabia. “It is a drastic suggestion, but we parents are facing difficulty in persuading our children to stop smoking. “We even cut their allowances, to no avail,” a worried father said.

“Public smoking, these days, is considered a fashionable thing because of the new generation’s perception that smoking is a cool thing to do, even in public,” said 18-year-old Daniyal Ashraf from Pakistan. “Though we know it is harmful to smoke, and that smoking not only affects the smokers, but the people around them, many continue with the habit. Besides, there are legalized zones where we can smoke,” he said.

“If smokers can live without smoking during the days in Ramadan, they might stop the habit forever; this is the proper thing to do,” said Tahsin Rahman, 25, from Bangladesh, who said that many of his friends had stopped smoking since the beginning of Ramadan.

Nida Harun suggested that there should be laws to help the smokers quit the habit. “There should be an entry fee to enter a public smoking zone and that the charges should be on hourly basis; this will discourage many from smoking,” she said. Even in Saudi schools, authorities are unable to stop students from smoking despite round-year anti-smoking campaign. According to a Saudi Ministry of Health survey, 62 percent of Saudis begin smoking between the ages of 10 and 20; 27 percent between the ages of 20 and 30 and nine percent before the age of 10.

While the debate rages on the topics of quitting smoking, smoking in public places, and smoking in legalized zones, the import of tobacco and cigarettes continues to rise in the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia ranks fourth in the world in tobacco imports and consumption. More than 15 billion cigarettes, worth $168 million, are being smoked by Saudis and expatriates every year, according to figures of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Health Ministers Council.

The Saudi Ministry of Health said that there are currently 35 anti-smoking clinics in the Kingdom, which would further be increased to 200 during the next five years, a situation that indicates that the number of smokers in this country is on the rise. Anti-smoking campaigners in the Kingdom have urged Saudi authorities to enforce World Health Organization (WHO) measures to combat the use of tobacco and called for import taxes to be increased.

The Anti-Smoking Center in Al-Aflaj Governorate said that increased tariffs could be used to support charities and government work in combating smoking. Anti-smoking campaigners are also seeking a ban on the sale of cigarettes in residential districts and prohibiting smoking in government and private workplaces. – SG

Reference: Stringent anti-smoking measures needed by Sumayeah Ridah Hasib, Saudi Gazette (Internet edition), 9/16/2009.

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