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Changing tack on smoking
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 05 - 06 - 2017

LAST week Minister of Health Dr. Tawfiq Al-Rabiah in a surprise announcement canceled an anti-smoking campaign that was to have taken place shortly. The cancelation of the drive was announced through a short video clip that was aired in media. In the clip, the minister expressed sadness over the deaths of 70,000 citizens, who die or are dying in a year, because of their decision to smoke, despite the fact that the smokers know fully well how damaging smoking or tobacco is to their health.
He revealed this fact on the day the video clip was to be aired and the ministry was supposed to launch a campaign against smoking. But he reversed the campaign decision, which was then aired in that video clip. He said that he had agreed with the people carrying out the campaign to cancel it and direct the funds set aside for it in providing treatment to those who are suffering from smoking-related illness at hospitals.
The clip also revealed the smoking habit is a virtual death wish. And the irony is that the realization of the cost of smoking comes either too late, or never at all. Those who suffer the after-effects of their deadly habit wish fervently that they had given up the habit of smoking willingly before they were forced to because of illness. He also said that the decision to give up smoking is personal and the choice to smoke or not to smoke is in the hands of the person and no one can force him/her to quit this habit. The clip rounded off with the minister urging those wishing to give up smoking to contact the numbers provided at the end of the clip.
I totally agree with the minister, as I have been repeatedly saying that awareness campaigns are useless, especially when it comes to smoking. Any money that is spent on organizing a campaign against smoking is surely going to waste. Simply look at how many years the government has been carrying out innovative campaigns against smoking and paying for them. Also compare those figures with the number of smokers and smoking-related deaths every year. The disparity is vast, with the numbers of smokers on the rise every year despite all concerted efforts.
A person only has to walk on the street, in a public park or any waiting area to see how many people are just puffing away their health. Sometimes, I simply have this belief that smokers do not care about their own health and nor the health of the public. For not only are they actively courting death by smoking, they are also infecting others, the passive smokers, in their vicinity with their devil may care attitude.
A smoker starts smoking at a young age, in high school or sometimes in middle school, because of peer pressure or bad influence. Sometimes a relative, brother or even father, who smokes in front of the children, influences the smoker at a tender age. There are parents who send children to buy a pack of cigarette from the store — a sure way of putting temptation on the children's path. This they do, even though these smokers know that smoking is a leading cause of death, could lead to cancer and serious heart and lung diseases but yet are not deterred to hold the cancer stick between their fingers.
Yet they continue to smoke and set a poor example for others. They continue to blow smoke even when watching a program against smoking and its ill effects. They could be lighting up while reading about the statistics of number of people who die because of smoking, and worse still they would reach for the pack of cigarettes while attending the funeral of a friend or relative who had died because of smoking-related illness, or put a cigarette in the mouth once they leave the funeral place.
It is engraved in the minds of our young generation that smoking is cool and a condition of attaining manhood. Smoking has now become attractive even to women, who are now puffing away with a shisha despite knowing the harm tobacco poses. What has become more problematic is that the tobacco drawn in the shisha comes in many flavors — strawberry, mixed fruit, apple and so on creating a harmful addictive mix of chemicals and tobacco. Tobacco companies are aggressively expanding their market while endangering the health of our youth. The awareness campaign against them would prove no match at all.
I say, enough about awareness drives, and let's move to the punitive phase of imposing fines and punishment for those who smoke in public area. When the government imposed a fine on those smoking inside airports, it worked. Suddenly we saw a smoke-free airport with the people desisting from smoking in fear of the fines. Those who still wanted to smoke had to go or stay outside. The same thing happened when smoking was banned inside government building. I wish if the government could take this measure a step further and ban smoking on the streets. This will surely bring the numbers of smokers down.
During my visit to the city of Kyoto in Japan, a member of our group put a cigarette in his mouth to smoke, when a Japanese citizen warned him that smoking was forbidden on the streets. It turned out that smoking outside of designated areas in the streets of the city is banned. I wonder if we could apply this rule here and anyone caught should be fined SR1,000 or more.
The fund from these fines should go to treating victims of smoking. I think that doubling the price a cigarette pack is not enough of a deterrent, and I wish the price of a pack of a cigarette increases to SR100 or even to SR200 to really hurt the smoker where it would hurt most — his pocket. An addicted smoker should be harmed financially by increasing the price sharply in order to protect himself from destroying his health and most importantly the health of others.
As I mentioned in a previous article on the same issue, smoking is the leading cause of cancer deaths. It would have been somehow acceptable if smoking affects smokers only, but it is more dangerous to other people who indirectly become second hand smokers. As innocent non-smoking people, we should not tolerate anyone smoking in public and we should pressurize them to put off their cigarettes.
There are people who love to defy rules and people by smoking anytime they want and at any place. We should act now, or else the latest statistics could reveal our growing tardiness toward smokers and smoking by putting us as the No. 1 nation when it comes to smoking. At the end, the holy Qur'an is clear when it says "and do not throw yourselves into destruction".
The writer can be reached at [email protected] Twitter: @anajeddawi_eng

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