Health chiefs want cigarette prices doubled

There are also calls for graphic images on cigarette packets showing the effects of tobacco to be made larger to deter a new generation of smokers, the Ministry of Health says.
Indian schoolchildren in Patiala on Friday make a human “No Smoking” sign during an awareness programme on the eve of World No Tobacco Day.  The World Health Organisation and partners use the day to highlight the health risks associated with tobacco use.  Kamal Sachar / AFP
Indian schoolchildren in Patiala on Friday make a human “No Smoking” sign during an awareness programme on the eve of World No Tobacco Day. The World Health Organisation and partners use the day to highlight the health risks associated with tobacco use. Kamal Sachar / AFP

DUBAI // The price of a packet of cigarettes should be doubled or even tripled to stub out the toxic habit, health chiefs said.

They have also called for graphic images on cigarette packets showing the effects of tobacco to be made larger to deter a new generation of smokers, the Ministry of Health has said.

Drastically increasing the cost would prevent teenagers spending pocket money on cigarettes and putting themselves at risk of lung cancer, heart disease and other health complaints that go hand in hand with smoking, said Dr Wedad Al Maidoor, head of tobacco control at the ministry.

She was speaking as the World Health Organisation (WHO) marked the annual World No Tobacco Day on Saturday.

Tobacco kills about six million people a year worldwide, and global consumption is rising.

Without urgent action the annual death toll could rise to more than eight million by 2030, according to the WHO.

A study released this week by the Health Authority Abu Dhabi revealed that 24.7 per cent of Abu Dhabi residents were tobacco users, 11 per cent of whom were Emirati.

Dr Al Maidoor said increasing the price of a packet of cigarettes would force smokers to quit and discourage others from picking up the habit.

“It should go up because it is very cheap,” she said. “It should be doubled or tripled because selling tobacco for Dh9, for example – it is dangerous for the teenager.

“For the younger generation, with tobacco consumption the price is a factor. For example, if you are giving them Dh20 a day in pocket money, if we raise the price of tobacco he is thinking twice because if he spends this money on tobacco he has not got money for other things.”

Health experts have long spoken about increasing the cost of cigarettes. One of the most popular brands – Marlboro Lights – costs about Dh9 for a packet of 20. Other brands can be bought for as little as Dh2.

While the low prices are attractive to teenagers, they also encourage expatriates to begin or increase their tobacco consumption because it is so much more affordable than in their home country, said Dr Al Maidoor.

Each year the WHO calls for effective policies to reduce consumption. This year, it is calling on countries to raise taxes on tobacco.

This is considered the most cost-effective tobacco-control measure, the organisation has said.

Dr Al Maidoor said another deterrent would be to build on a ruling requiring all imported cigarettes and other tobacco products to carry a graphic health warning.

“We are looking to improve on that,” she said.

“We need it to be better and more effective. What we have at the moment is only 50 per cent. We need it to be like 70 per cent of tobacco labelling. The bigger, the better.”

Smoking is a major factor in non-communicable diseases. It can increase the risk of heart attacks, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, among others.

Dr Anil Grover, a specialist in internal medicine, agreed that a price increase would deter some smokers.

“The UAE Government’s fight against tobacco should include raising taxes as this will discourage many users from consuming smoking products,” said Dr Grover, of the International Modern Hospital in Dubai.

Dr Grover said more awareness programmes and healthcare policies were needed to reduce the burden of smoking, especially among the young, he said.

“School management, parents and the health sector need to carry out sustained and long-term anti-tobacco initiatives across schools, colleges and universities as well as the general public.”

He urged smokers to quit smoking today.

“As soon as you stop smoking your body begins to repair itself,” he said. “Benefits include better health, less stress, more energy and increased fertility.

“I encourage all smokers to quit this deadly addiction and take a pledge on this day to treat your bodies with respect.”

jbell@thenational.ae

Published: May 29, 2014 04:00 AM

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