JEDDAH: Since the implementation of the law regarding “plain packaging” on cigarettes in Saudi Arabia on August 23 this year, a number of smokers have reportedly complained to the Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA) about a perceived difference in the quality of the cigarettes inside that packaging.
The complaints have been filed despite the manufacturers’ insistence that there has been no change to their actual cigarettes, only to the packaging, and the SFDA’s confirmation that it examines all shipments arriving in the Kingdom to ensure they adhere to regulations.
The SFDA and the Ministry of Commerce have contacted cigarette companies and requested an explanation for the complaints.
The companies say they have only changed the packaging to abide by new regulations set by the World Health Organization, which have been implemented by Saudi Arabia.
The SFDA and the Ministry of Commerce have asked tobacco companies to provide information about the ingredients of their cigarettes, the origin of the ingredients and the countries in which they are produced and packed.
The companies have also been ordered to conduct taste tests and to provide an explanation to consumers about the alleged change in taste.
The SFDA has sent seven samples to product-testing lab Eurofins to see if there has been any change in the quality of cigarettes over the past two years. The results will be released once received. If there has been any “manipulation of ingredients,” authorities say, the companies will face disciplinary measures.
Tobacco giant Philip Morris International released a statement on its Twitter account, saying: “Our cigarettes distributed in Saudi Arabia are authentic and in line with the Saudi plain packaging regulation.”
Similarly, British American Tobacco in Middle East noted that it complies with all laws, regulations and standards within all countries in which it sells its products.
Haifa Esshi, a consultant who helps smokers quit the habit, said that smoking is on the increase in Saudi Arabia.
Around 20 percent of the Kingdom’s male population smoke, she said, adding that while there are no official figures available, she believes that more women are smoking in Saudi Arabia than ever before.