Stubbing out an unhealthy habit

If smokers’ weak wills won’t help them quit, governments can do much to aid their resolve

The UAE has banned smoking in public places.  Satish Kumar / The National
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With new year’s eve traditionally associated with solemn resolutions, many smokers in the UAE and elsewhere in the world will be vowing to stop. But as we know, many of these promises will fail, which only goes to show the need for outside help for those who want to quit smoking.

The authorities in the UAE have already begun addressing this by banning shisha – a far more unhealthy way of smoking than cigarettes – being served in cafes too close residential areas and schools. Smoking bans also being introduced in public places like malls.

As The National reported this week, there have also been campaigns aimed at specific groups. Lifecare Hospital in Baniyas has launched a three-month campaign in labour camps across Abu Dhabi emirate to highlight the health risks caused by smoking. But there is still much to be done and it may be possible to benefit from the experience of other countries that are further ahead on this path. One of the lessons proven elsewhere is that progress is best made through a steady series of gradual changes.

The US and Australia are acknowledged world leaders in this field. UAE cigarette packets now carry health warnings, an initiative the US adopted in 1966. Dubai’s ban on smoking in most public places has been the case in California since 1998. In Australia, cigarettes are now sold in dull green packs with the brand written in a standard plain font. They cost around Dh60 a pack, six times as much as here. And on Monday, the UK launched an innovative – and graphic – public awareness campaign to shock and educate on how smoking “rots” the body from within.

Based on the campaigns of the US, UK and Australia, the options available here might include raising the price of cigarettes, banning advertising and banning smoking in enclosed spaces and in the presence of children. Insurance companies might also be incentivised to include quit-smoking treatments in their policies.

This will mean that even if some smokers break their resolution to stop, they will, at least, find it increasingly difficult to continue the habit.