UAE urged to do more in curbing use of tobacco

As the World Health Organisation marks the annual World No Tobacco Day on Sunday, the health body said further steps are needed in the UAE to reduce the number of smokers.

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ABU DHABI // Greater measures are needed in the UAE to curb tobacco use, despite the progress the country has made, global health chiefs will say on World No Tobacco Day on Sunday.

Fatimah El Awa, regional adviser for the Tobacco Free Initiative at the World Health Organisation (WHO), said the UAE Government had taken some important steps to help people quit smoking.

Controls on the sale and use of tobacco, a ban on advertising its use and ensuring many public places are now smoke-free are some of the many measures that have been implemented in recent years under the federal anti-tobacco law.

“The UAE has seen progress in the last few years and led the way in two policies – banning tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship and offering help to quit,” said Ms El-Awa.

She said there was a clear political commitment to tobacco control, demonstrated by Abu Dhabi’s role as host of the 16th World Conference on Tobacco or Health earlier this year.

While progress is being made across the emirates, more steps are needed to meet the WHO’s target of a 30 per cent reduction in tobacco use in each country by 2025.

These measures include banning smoking in all public places and taxing tobacco.

“Yes, the national tobacco control legislation and its bylaws were a good step on the right track. However, more is needed to achieve the highest level in all policies,” said Ms El Awa.

The UAE also needed better statistics to accurately represent the number of smokers in the country, she said.

“Regionally, there is no lack of statistics anymore. However, in the UAE, up-to-date information is missing and needs to be acquired,” said Ms El Awa. “This is a major step for tobacco control.

“Based on national statistics, the national authority is able to determine its targets and draw its policies in tobacco control.”

Globally, better intelligence was also needed, said the WHO. Countries needed to monitor tobacco use by surveying adults and youths at least once every five years. However, only one in four countries does.

Dr Hanan Obaid, head of the acute and chronic disease unit at Dubai Health Authority (DHA), said community campaigns stressing the health impacts of smoking and an increase in cessation clinics had helped reduce tobacco use.

The Tobacco Free Dubai initiative alone had reached 40,000 people, she said.

“UAE has made a real progress in encouraging smokers to quit and encouraging tobacco-free environments by banning use in shopping malls, educational institutions and others through the implementation of tobacco law.”

DHA’s smoking cessation clinics recorded a 16.9 per cent quitting rate last year compared to 14 per cent in 2013, she said.

Dr Bodi Saicharan, a specialist in respiratory medicine at Abu Dhabi’s Burjeel Hospital, agreed more needed to be done

“The national tobacco initiative is a good one but the implementation still needs a bit more work,” he said. “Patient education is the most important thing and avoiding smoking in public places is also very important and is still not being implemented.

“I see lots of areas in public places where there is smoking.”

Preventing the next generation of smokers was also vital.

“Most start at the age of 14 or 15,” Dr Saicharan said. “There should be education and advice in school so students do not get influenced by their friends who are smoking.”

Preventing second-hand smoke – which globally causes 600,000 deaths a year – was also vital, he said.