RIYADH: Many Saudis say the increase in tobacco prices which doubled after the introduction of the value-added tax (VAT) in June last year, has helped them to quit this bad habit.
Salman Al-Imam, a Sudanese driver living in Saudi Arabia, gave up 10 months ago. “I had been smoking for 15 years and never thought I’d quit,” he said. “However, with willpower, determination and Champix, I now can’t even stand the smell. I’d rather spend that money on my family.”
Layla Amin, a 55-year-old grandmother, quit the habit with the introduction of the VAT. She said the hefty prices gave her the push she always needed. “I’ve wanted to quit for years, but I never had the incentive. Now, I feel better, healthier and happier than I’ve been in the past 30 years of smoking! I pray that all smokers detest smoking as much as I do now!”
Others are not as keen to let it go. Khalid, a university student, said: “I enjoy it very much. My whole family smokes so it is the norm. Yes, cigarettes are more expensive now, but I can still afford them. What I can’t afford is letting go of this pleasure. It’s addictive and I enjoy it. Maybe in the future, I’ll quit but not now.”
Others have found their way around paying the VAT on tobacco. “I just buy packets from airports when I travel. They sell for less than half the price here in Saudi Arabia! Problem solved,” said Noura, a bank employee.
Many outdoor cafes in Jeddah allow smoking and shisha, also known as hubbly bubbly or hookah. It is a tobacco that comes in various flavors.
Riyadh does not accommodate these cafes. It has stricter rules and in general, smoking is frowned upon by society. Dr. Ali Al-Wadey, general supervisor of the anti-smoking program in the Ministry of Health, and secretary-general of the National Committee for Tobacco Control noted that: “The turnout in smoking cessation clinics increased by 302 percent over the same period last year after selective taxation. There has been a decrease in tobacco imports.”
The ministry has taken many initiatives to curb smoking. In addition to running different awareness campaigns, the authorities have introduced treatment services like anti-smoking clinics.
These clinics are run by medical staff trained to help people quit this habit and provide counseling and follow-up services.