Hajj (Pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina) - possible healthier environment this year..

November 5, 2009 - Saudi Arabia's health ministry is launching a public campaign to make the holy cities of Mecca and Medina smoke-free during this year’s pilgrimage season. The move is a part of a larger health drive for the pilgrimage season that has been spearheaded by the ministry to create a healthier environment for pilgrims and prevent a swine flu breakout among them. Over 2 million people from around the world travel to the two holy cities each year to perform the pilgrimage.

The bid to make the holy cites of Mecca and Medina smoke-free is not a totally new initiative. Saudi’s King Abdullah declared them smoke-free in 2002, and the health ministry has since the struggled to implement the ruling. One factor that has caused difficulties in the implementation of the king’s decision is the language barrier with pilgrims from around the world pouring into Saudi Arabia each year for the Hajj.

Speaking to the Saudi English-language daily Arab News, Majed Al-Munif of the health ministry’s Tobacco Control Program said that brochures advertising the anti-smoking campaign are being handed out to arriving pilgrims. “Under the ministry’s Tobacco Control Program, we have printed around 1.5 million leaflets in different languages for distribution among pilgrims — both smokers and nonsmokers,” he said.

The Middle East, home to smoke-filled teahouses, is now slowly jumping on the smoke-free bandwagon. Beirut, for example, recently organized a smoke-free night on its bar-crowded Gemmayze strip, and Turkey banned smoking in public places earlier this year.

To speed up the ministry's goal of making Mecca and Medina free of cigarette smoke, tobacco sales have apparently been banned within a three-mile radius of the two cities and the areas have been declared tobacco-free. Billboards carrying anti-smoking messages have been erected across Mecca and Medina, and pilgrims are being given fliers advertising special clinics that help smokers to quit. Buses transporting pilgrims between sites carry posters about the anti-smoking drive.

Al-Munif said he believes that the Hajj pilgrimage serves as an excellent opportunity for smoking pilgrims to rid themselves of their bad habit. The health ministry has even come up with a slogan that it hopes will serve as an inspiration for pilgrims to put out that cigarette: “Make Arafat Day, a Quit-Smoking Day," in reference to climactic ninth day of the Hajj.

Saudi Arabia has pre-ordered millions of doses of vaccines for the rapidly spreading H1NI flu so that, if ready, they can be administered around the kingdom ahead of the massive November-December global pilgrimage to Mecca.

Reference: SAUDI ARABIA: Push for a smoke-free Hajj pilgrimage, Alexandra Sandels in Beirut, Los Angeles Times, 11/3/2009.

Saudi Arabia - some related news briefs:
Saudi Arabia - anti-smoking regulations approved in August 2003 not yet implemented..;
Saudi Arabia - rid country of public smoking zones..;
Saudi Arabia - bans use of cessation drugs Champix and Zyban..;
Saudi Arabia - banning sales of electronic (e) cigarettes..;
Saudi Arabia - smokers to pay higher health insurance premium..;
50 lashes for smoker on Saudia Arabian Airlines..;
Saudi court set to hear tobacco compensation case..;
Saudis to sue tobacco firms for more than $2.7 billion Ryadh, Saudi Arabia..