RAS AL KHAIMAH // Health officials and police have issued a new warning on the use of illegal chewing tobacco after their biggest find in three years.
The municipality has seized 62 kilograms of naswar in recent weeks. In the most recent raid, police and municipality officials confiscated 40kg of boxed naswar from a Sharjah-registered car at 7.30am on Thursday. The car owner was fined Dh10,000.
"It was ready to supply the markets," Adel Al Suwaidi, the manager of the municipality's Public Health and Environment Department, said yesterday.
"The problem is they sell it to children. I have received so many complaints from families. The mothers they say their children look drunk, they look high."
Another 10kg was found in a shoe shop, hidden under a wooden staircase, RAK Police said. The shop owner was fined Dh5,000 and closed for a week.
A total of 8kg was seized from two shoe repair stores, the owners of which were each fined Dh1,000; further, the stores were closed for three days. And 4kg was found at a grocery store, leading to a Dh3,000 fine.
RAK Police said the latest raid came after a tip-off from an Emirati addict, 16, who divulged the secrets of the naswar trade to the police after advice from his mother.
The boy agreed on the condition that police protect him from his father's temper.
The open use of naswar and betel leaf has declined in the past 10 years after a crackdown by the municipality.
Use in RAK was largely eradicated three years ago after the municipality closed a processing centre.
While the red and green spittle from naswar and betel leaf use no longer colour RAK's pavements, their trade is still common.
The municipality believes most of the tobacco now comes to the emirate in a processed form. It has pledged to work with other emirates to stop the naswar trade entirely after Thursday's raid.
"It disappeared for a while but this problem will never be finished," said Mr Al Suwaidi. "It is like cigarettes. The problem has declined but this time we were really shocked to find this quantity inside the car."
As municipality officials discussed how to ban the tobacco, a Pakistani driver was chewing the sticky tobacco outside their offices.
"From the day I was small I took this," said the addict, a driver in his 50s from north Pakistan. "It's not good but what can I do? It only costs me a riyal [dirham] and a half for one day."
He said he travelled to RAK from Rams village to buy naswar in the Nakheel district, the only area in the emirate where it is now sold.
Although traditionally the preserve of Asian men, the tobacco has received a boost among Arab teenagers who have found it easier to buy than traditional tobacco products such as cigarettes, shisha and dokha after an anti-smoking campaign by the RAK Municipality and the Ministry of Health.
Most are unaware of naswar's dangers.
"It's the same as a cigarette but healthier," said a Pakistani lorry driver, 45, who chews twice a day. "I don't smoke or drink, I only have naswar. Cigarettes are a problem for the lungs but this is natural. It has no chemicals."
Mohammed, 30, an Egyptian, shook his head at a nearby table.
"Now Emirati children are using it like they use midwakh [tobacco pipes]," said Mohammed, who did not want to give his last name. "It gives cancer."
Parvaiz Iqbal, a cashier, aged 35, disagreed. "Not if you clean your teeth," he said. "Then it's OK, it's healthy."
The RAK smoking cessation centre has dealt with a handful of betel and naswar addiction cases, despite the fact that their use is far more common than cigarettes in some areas and equally dangerous.
"Maybe they don't consider themselves smokers so they are less likely to seek help, but we know that its use is increasing," said Dr Mohd Amin, the director of primary health care in RAK. "We have to make people aware that this is tobacco and it has all the problems of tobacco and people need to give it up as they need to give up smoking."