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Saudi Arabia

Underage tobacco ban going up in smoke?

Youngsters are still buying cigarettes and related products at local shops, even though the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs prohibited the sale of tobacco products to anyone below 18 in June last year.
“There are no inspectors or anyone monitoring the sale of tobacco when customers of any age come in to purchase any item. We are here to make a profit, so of course we sell them whatever they want,” said Mohammed Hakeem, an Indian shopkeeper in a convenience store in Al-Salamah district.
He added that in the beginning they tried to enforce the ban and abide by anti-tobacco laws, but found it too difficult to keep asking for ID cards to verify the age of customers.
“We met with abusive remarks and even threats from teenagers who wanted to purchase cigarettes. As you can see it was just easier to give them what they wanted,” he concluded.
Ameer Khan, a Pakistani shopkeeper in Faisaliah district, said: “It is always this way with new laws and bans. First, there are warnings and talk of penalties. But because there is no one enforcing these regulations, they are never effective.”
However, Majid Al-Muneef, general supervisor of the Tobacco Control Program at the Ministry of Health and secretary of the Anti-Tobacco National Committee denied the lack of enforcement of the underage tobacco ban.
“This is completely inaccurate. We have been employing investigation teams that have been touring the city as part of our efforts to fight the sale of tobacco to the youth and to enforce anti-smoking ban in public places. We have been working with the Ministry of Education and municipality officials in developing awareness campaigns to inform everyone concerning the dangers of smoking,” Al-Muneef said.
He added that the penalty still stands at SR 500 for any violation of the ban. Saudi Arabia currently ranks fourth in terms of global tobacco imports and consumption, smoking 15 billion cigarettes annually worth SR 592.5 million ($ 158 million), according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO). The Kingdom has been a signatory of the WHO’s Tobacco Control Treaty since May 2003.

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