May 31 is the 29th annual World No Tobacco Day, an initiative launched by the World Health Organisation and its partners to highlight the risks associated with tobacco use and advocate effective policies to reduce tobacco consumption around the world.
Tobacco use is one of the country’s biggest health concerns. About 28 per cent of men and 2.4 per cent of women are smokers, according to a 2015 WHO report, and there is evidence of children as young as 13 taking up the habit. Studies have shown that tobacco smokers are at a greater risk of heart disease, stroke and different types of cancers, including lung cancer which is the second most common cancer among men and the fourth most common overall.
People in the GCC are among the biggest consumers of tobacco in the world. This does not only include cigarettes, but also other ways of smoking, such as the medwakh or shisha pipes, which are very popular. The Health Authority Abu Dhabi says that, despite the common perception that they are comparatively healthy, smoking one shisha pipe is equivalent to smoking about 140 cigarettes.
The Government is making efforts to curb tobacco use, including bans on smoking in malls and cafes. A 2014 federal law makes it illegal for shisha cafes to operate close to schools, mosques or residential areas, and prohibits the promotion or advertisement of tobacco in any media or platform. Recently, the country also banned the sale of e-cigarettes and is considering increasing the tax on tobacco products and harsher warnings on cigarette packets.
But we shouldn’t just leave this up to the Government. Family members of smokers and the whole community ought to play their part in spreading awareness. For example, the Emirates National Oil Company has announced a ban on selling tobacco products for 24 hours in support of World No Tobacco Day. This might be seen as a token move, but it helps deliver the message. If you are a smoker, perhaps you should try giving it up just for today. You never know, you might like the smell of fresh air.