The Kingdom will join the members of World Health Organization (WHO) to observe the World No Tobacco day beginning today, the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced here yesterday.
This year the WHO has selected "tobacco industry interference" as the theme of the occasion. The campaign of the MOH, which will be carried out through next week, will focus on the need to expose and counter the tobacco industry's brazen and increasingly aggressive attempts to undermine the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) because of the serious danger they pose to public health.
After its adoption by the 56th World Health Assembly in May 2003, the Kingdom also became a signatory to the convention in 2004.
Tobacco use is one of the leading preventable causes of death. The global tobacco epidemic kills nearly 6 million people each year, of which more than 600,000 are people exposed to secondhand smoke. Unless addressed effectively, it will kill up to 8 million people by 2030, of which more than 80 percent would live in low and middle-income countries.
“As more and more countries move fully to meet their obligations under the WHO FCTC, the tobacco industry's efforts to undermine the treaty are becoming more and more energetic,” General Supervisor of the Ministry of Health’s Anti-Smoking Unit Dr. Majid bin Abdullah Al-Munif said on the eve of No Tobacco Day.
Al-Munif noted that tobacco companies label cigarettes as “Lights,” “Milds,” or “Low-Tar,” to imply that they are not harmful to health. “All cigarettes have the same ill-effects irrespective of such classifications,” he stressed.
The official said the Ministry of Health maintains 40 anti-smoking clinics in the Kingdom and this will be increased to 200 during the next five years considering the need. The ministry runs separate clinics for women.
The Kingdom has banned smoking in all government departments and even some malls, public places and airports have similar bans.
World No Tobacco Day will educate policymakers and the general public about the tobacco industry's nefarious and harmful tactics.
An official communiqué from the WHO issued on the occasion said in an attempt to halt the adoption of pictorial health warnings on packages of tobacco, the industry recently adopted the novel tactic of suing countries under bilateral investment treaties, claiming that the warnings impinge the companies' attempts to use their legally-registered brands.
Meanwhile, the industry's attempts to undermine the treaty continue on other fronts, particularly with regard to countries' attempts to ban smoking in enclosed public places and to ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.
A MOH spokesman said the ministry would intensify its campaign this year to prevent people from falling prey into the hands of tobacco companies, which are deploying all forms of tricks of the trade to allure customers. The ministry guidelines, he said, would stress on the health hazards from smoking and advise people to quit smoking.
The regional directors of health have been requested to conduct awareness program in their respective areas targeting men, women and students.
The World No Tobacco Day was first created by the member states of the WHO in 1987. On this day a 24-hour abstinence from tobacco and all its products is encouraged throughout the world. Health hazards of tobacco usage include heart disease, stroke, premature aging, respiratory problems, impotency, pregnancy–related complications and cancer (of the lung, mouth, throat, larynx, bladder, cervix, kidney and even certain types of leukemia).
The Scientific Saudi Association of Public Health in collaboration with King Saud bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences and National Guard Health Affairs celebrated the day at the College of Public Health and Health Informatics yesterday.
Today will also be a day without smoke in Dubai as the city banned the sale of tobacco products for 24 hours to observe the No Tobacco Day.
“The ban is meant to encourage a 24-hour period of abstinence from all forms of tobacco consumption,” said Redha Salaman, director of the Public Health and Safety Department at Dubai Municipality.
To support the “Dubai without Smoking” initiative, 283 businesses including shops, hypermarkets, supermarkets, 52 Emirates pumps and 85 Enoc pumps will participate in the campaign.
Petrol stations and leading retail outlets already have informed their clients about the non-availability of tobacco products.
The United Arab Emirates often discourage smokers and it has set up several smoking cessation clinics across the country to help people quit smoking. In addition, the country also imposes heavy taxes on tobacco products to reduce consumption.
—With input from K.T. Abdurabb