What other Arab countries can learn from Saudi Arabia’s fight against tobacco use

Special Young people in the Arab world smoke various tobacco products, including shisha (above), but the Saudi Health Ministry has warned that newer smoking trends, such as vaping, also bring several health risks. (AFP)
Young people in the Arab world smoke various tobacco products, including shisha (above), but the Saudi Health Ministry has warned that newer smoking trends, such as vaping, also bring several health risks. (AFP)
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Updated 24 July 2022

What other Arab countries can learn from Saudi Arabia’s fight against tobacco use

What other Arab countries can learn from Saudi Arabia’s fight against tobacco use
  • Health officials say the Kingdom has witnessed a drop in smoking largely due to higher taxes on cigarettes
  • The Saudi Committee for Combating Tobacco wants to reduce the percentage of daily smokers to 5% by 2030

DUBAI: Tobacco use remains a serious health concern in countries across the Middle East and North Africa, which have some of the highest proportions of smokers in the world.

Despite this high prevalence of tobacco use in the region, policies introduced by Saudi authorities appear to have resulted in significant reductions in the number of smokers in the country, coupled with an increase in those seeking help to quit the habit.

The public-health consequences of what the World Health Organization calls a “tobacco epidemic” are grave. Tobacco smoke contains more than 2,500 carcinogenic chemicals and, according to WHO data, smoking eventually kills up to 50 percent of those who indulge in the habit.

The Tobacco Atlas, a project that collects data about the problems stemming from this global epidemic and the ways in which they are being tackled, estimates that more than 8.67 million people died from smoking-related diseases in 2019 alone, including 1.3 million who were exposed to secondhand smoke, also known as passive smoking.

In Saudi Arabia alone, it is estimated that smoking kills 70,000 people each year.

Smoking is responsible for between 80 and 90 percent of lung cancer deaths and significantly increases the risk of other cancers, as well as cardiovascular, lung, neurological, eye, digestive and infectious diseases.

The often-hidden economic toll of smoking, which includes the bill for medical care of smokers and those exposed to secondhand smoke, costs many countries billions of dollars each year.

According to the Tobacco Atlas, the worldwide economic damage caused by smoking in 2019 amounted to approximately $2 trillion, which is equivalent to about 1.8 percent of global gross domestic product.

A study published in the academic journal Tobacco Control in 2021 estimates that the total cost of smoking for the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE — amounted to more than $14.3 billion in 2016 alone. Government health spending accounted for almost 75 percent of the cost.




The Eastern Mediterranean region has experienced a 15 percent drop in the proportion of the population over the age of 15 who smoke daily since 1990. However, the number of smokers in the region has doubled since 2007 due to the rapid population growth of the Middle East. (File/AFP)

Among those six nations, the economic cost of smoking was highest for Saudi Arabia, the most populous GCC country, where it amounted to more than $6.3 billion.

The global prevalence of smoking dropped from 22.7 percent in 2007 to 19.6 percent in 2019, the most recent year for which WHO data is available, according to Tobacco Atlas.

The Eastern Mediterranean region has experienced a 15 percent drop in the proportion of the population over the age of 15 who smoke daily since 1990. However, the number of smokers in the region has doubled since 2007 due to the rapid population growth of the Middle East.

A growing number of younger smokers creates more challenges. While the use of electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco products — known as “vaping” — is often marketed to smokers and non-smokers alike as a less-harmful alternative to cigarettes, it carries its own risks, especially for teenagers and young adults.

Dr. Shaikh Abdullah, a pediatric and adolescent specialist at King Abdulaziz Medical City in Riyadh, previously told Arab News in September 2019 that “one might be tempted to turn to e-cigarettes as a way to ease the transition from traditional cigarettes to not smoking at all. But smoking e-cigarettes is not advisable either.”

He warned that young people who vape are at risk of stunted brain development and developing memory issues.

FASTFACTS

* 2.5K Carcinogenic chemicals in tobacco smoke.

* 8.67m Deaths from smoking-related diseases (2019).

* $6.3bn Economic cost of smoking for Saudi Arabia (2016).

* $14.3bn Economic cost of smoking for GCC bloc (2016).

The Saudi Ministry of Health is working to address the challenges created by the rise in popularity of vaping. It has posted messages and images on Twitter and other social media platforms warning of the dangers of e-cigarettes, featuring slogans such as: “Flavor inside, color outside, but its truth is an electronic heart attack.”

Since the early 2000s, Saudi authorities have adopted a range of policies designed to combat tobacco use. In 2003, they launched the nation’s first public anti-smoking campaign.

In 2015, they banned smoking in many public places, including educational and cultural organizations and almost all workplaces. The current goal is to reduce the proportion of the population that smokes daily from 11 percent to five percent by 2030.

Authorities in Riyadh are not resting on their laurels, however, and plan to implement additional initiatives to further reduce the harm caused by tobacco use.




Saudi smokers (above) have been warned that their habit is dangerous, with some 70,000 people in the Kingdom dying from the effects every year. (AFP)

In an interview in June this year with the Saudi TV channel Al-Ekhbariya, Dr. Mansour Al-Qahtani, the secretary general of the Saudi Anti-Tobacco Committee, said that the government intends to ban the sale of tobacco products in supermarkets, after having previously banned their sale in kiosks in 2016.

Thereafter, cigarettes will only be available for purchase in specialist shops selling tobacco products such as shisha and chewing tobacco.

The heavy taxation of tobacco products has proven to be a particularly effective tool for combating smoking and one that the Kingdom has relied on heavily. While the Middle East as a whole trails other regions in imposing heavy taxes on tobacco as a deterrent, a number of GCC countries have bucked this trend.

A 2021 WHO study that compared anti-smoking policies around the world found that in June 2017, Saudi Arabia introduced the highest duty on cigarettes in the GCC area: An excise tax of 100 percent.

Research has shown that the Saudi policies have been successful in reducing smoking. A study published in the Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal found that the 2017 tax increase was followed by a noticeable reduction in the Kingdom’s smoking population and in the number of cigarettes smoked.

A 2022 analysis published by the Annals of Saudi Medicine also revealed that the annual importation of cigarettes dropped by over 27 percent from 2013 to 2019 after the implementation of the tax.




The public-health consequences of what the World Health Organization calls a “tobacco epidemic” are grave, including for the countries of the Middle East and North Africa. (AFP)

Saudi Arabia and the UAE has also imposed advertising restrictions and bans on smoking in public, and implemented extensive programs to help and support smokers who want to quit, according to the WHO.

The Kingdom was only the second country in the Arab world to establish national stop-smoking programs and clinics, in 2011, after Bahrain, which introduced them in 2004.

As of 2019, there were 542 such clinics operating across Saudi Arabia. According to official statistics, nearly 27 percent of people in the Kingdom who participated in programs designed to help them stop smoking managed to quit, according to a 2020 study published in the Journal of Health Informatics in Developing Countries.

Saudi Arabia also leads the Arab world in the use of media to raise awareness of the harm tobacco use can cause, and on the warnings printed on cigarette packaging.

According to a 2022 study published in the journal Tobacco Control, Saudi Arabia was the first country in the Eastern Mediterranean region to mandate the use of plain, non-visually appealing packaging on tobacco products.

The significant reduction in smoking in Saudi Arabia, following the strict measures introduced to increase the cost of consumption and decrease demand, is unsurprising and follows data-driven policy recommendations.

A 2018 study of public-health policies designed to reduce smoking, published by the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, found that a tax rate of at least 50 percent is the most effective tool in the long term.

However, the Saudi government is not content to make do with the results of its existing policies. In an interview this year with Yahla Program, Al-Qahtani said: “According to studies, the most successful method for combating smoking is not voluntary or treatment (for those seeking to quit) but laws and (government) policies, and the most important among them is increasing the price. We are still striving to increase the price.”

According to the latest international studies, he added, a 150 percent tax would be more effective. If introduced, this policy would result in the price of a pack of cigarettes increasing to about $10.50 in Saudi Arabia, the highest average price for a pack in the Arab world.

 

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Palestinian President Abbas skirts apology for Munich attack

Palestinian President Abbas skirts apology for Munich attack
Updated 17 August 2022

Palestinian President Abbas skirts apology for Munich attack

Palestinian President Abbas skirts apology for Munich attack
  • Germany has long argued the term should only be used to describe the Nazis’ singular crime of killing six million Jews before and during World War II

BERLIN: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas expressed no regret Tuesday for the deadly attack by Palestinian militants on Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics a half century ago, countering that Israel had committed “50 Holocausts” against Palestinians over the years.
Eleven Israeli athletes and a German police officer died after members of the Palestinian militant group Black September took hostages at the Olympic Village on Sept. 5, 1972. At the time of the attack, the group was linked to Abbas’ Fatah party.
Asked whether as Palestinian leader he planned to apologize to Israel and Germany for the attack ahead of the 50th anniversary next month, Abbas responded instead by citing allegations of atrocities committed by Israel since 1947.
“If we want to go over the past, go ahead,” Abbas told reporters after a meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin. “I have 50 slaughters that Israel committed.”
Standing next to Scholz, Abbas explicitly used the word “Holocausts” in his reply, drawing a grimace from the German chancellor. Germany has long argued the term should only be used to describe the Nazis’ singular crime of killing six million Jews before and during World War II.
While Scholz had earlier rejected the Palestinian leader’s description of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as “apartheid,” he did not immediately rebuke Abbas for using the term “Holocaust.”
In a statement to German daily Bild, Scholz later criticized Abbas’s choice of words, saying any downplaying of the horrors of the Holocaust was “unacceptable.”
Conservative German lawmaker Armin Laschet likewise expressed outrage at Abbas’ comments.
“The (Palestinian) leader would have gained sympathy if he had apologized for the terrorist attack on Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics 1972,” he wrote on Twitter. “Accusing Israel of ‘50 Holocausts’ instead is the most disgusting speech ever heard in the German Chancellery,” he said.
In his response, the Palestinian president also said he was committed to building trust and achieving a peaceful solution to the conflict with Israel.
“Please come to peace,” he said. “Please come to security, let’s build trust between us and you. This is better than other kinds of talking.”
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said Abbas’ remarks about “50 Holocausts,” made on German soil, were “not only a moral disgrace, but a monstrous lie.”
“Six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, including one and a half million Jewish children,” Lapid tweeted. “History will never forgive him.”
Weeks before a planned somber commemoration marking the 50th anniversary of the Munich attack, Germany has also found itself embroiled in controversy in its dealings with the relatives of the Israelis who were killed.
Victims’ families announced last week that they planned to boycott the ceremony after failing to reach agreement on bigger compensation from the German government.
Relatives of the athletes have long accused Germany of failing to secure the Olympic Village, refusing Israeli help and botching a rescue operation in which five of the attackers also died.

 


Tunisia intercepts nearly 100 Europe-bound migrants

Tunisia intercepts nearly 100 Europe-bound migrants
Updated 16 August 2022

Tunisia intercepts nearly 100 Europe-bound migrants

Tunisia intercepts nearly 100 Europe-bound migrants
  • Tunisia and Libya are the main points of departure for migrants trying to reach Europe from Africa

TUNIS: Tunisia said Tuesday it had foiled several attempts by almost 100 migrants to reach Europe via the Mediterranean Sea since the previous day.

Tunisia and Libya are the main points of departure for migrants trying to reach Europe from Africa. Sea crossing attempts tend to increase during spring and summer.

Tunisia’s National Guard said it had prevented five maritime crossings and rescued 80 people, mostly Tunisians and including 35 migrants from sub-Saharan Africa.

It said “preventive operations” were also carried out near Menzel Temime in the north, Mahdia and Kerkennah on the central coast and Zarzis in the south, leading to 11 arrests.

The National Guard said it had seized “a sum of money” without specifying the amount, and an inflatable boat in these operations.

On Monday, maritime and military authorities said 657 people were rescued or prevented from trying to cross in 46 separate incidents between Friday and Monday.

The Defense Ministry said that 42 Egyptians who had set sail from Libya were rescued Sunday off Kerkennah, after their boat sank and they took refuge on an oil platform.

Tunisia is in the throes of political and economic crises, and Libya has been gripped by lawlessness since 2011 that has seen militias turn to people trafficking.

The two countries are also the gateway for sub-Saharan Africans hoping for a better life by escaping impoverished and strife-torn countries such as Sudan.

The EU’s Frontex border agency says the central Mediterranean route was used by more than 42,500 migrants between January and July, up 44 percent compared with the first seven months of 2021.


25 dead in airstrikes, shelling in north Syria

25 dead in airstrikes, shelling in north Syria
Updated 17 August 2022

25 dead in airstrikes, shelling in north Syria

25 dead in airstrikes, shelling in north Syria
  • Turkish attacks target Assad forces and Kurdish fighters in border town

JEDDAH: At least 25 people were killed in northern Syria on Tuesday after Turkey launched airstrikes and an artillery bombardment targeting Assad regime forces and Kurdish fighters near the border town of Kobane.

The Turkish shelling began overnight, when artillery salvoes hit the town and around its edges. It continued throughout the day, and at least one child was killed.
Kurdish YPG militia fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces responded with a mortar attack on a Turkish military border post in Sanliurfa province that killed one soldier and injured four.
After the mortar attack, Turkish forces conducted retaliatory fire against targets in the Kobane area. “According to initial information in the region, 13 terrorists were neutralized. Operations in the region are continuing,” the Defense Ministry in Ankara said.

FASTFACT

Kurdish YPG militia fighters responded with a mortar attack on a Turkish military border post in Sanliurfa province that killed one soldier and injured four.

Dilvin, a shopkeeper in Kobane, said chaos broke out in the town when the shelling intensified on Tuesday. “People started running everywhere, cars everywhere, people asking about their friends and their family. Then the sounds started to build, the sounds were everywhere,” she said.
“There was so much screaming. So much fear. Now everyone is locked up at home.”
Later on Tuesday, 11 people died in Turkish airstrikes on a Syria border post run by Assad regime forces. It was not clear if the dead were Syrian government troops or Kurdish fighters.
Syrian regime forces have deployed in areas controlled by the SDF near the border with Turkey as part of agreements intended to stem cross-border offensives by Ankara targeting Kurdish forces it views as terrorists.
Turkey has launched a series of attacks since 2016 targeting Kurdish forces and Daesh, but they have rarely resulted in the deaths of Syrian regime fighters.
If regime forces are confirmed to be among those killed on Tuesday, the attack would be one of the largest escalations since Ankara and Damascus traded attacks in 2020 following a Syrian regime strike that killed 33 Turkish soldiers in the northwestern province of Idlib.
Turkey has stepped up its attacks in Kurdish-controlled areas of Syria since July, when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan failed to obtain a green light from regional allies Iran and Russia for a fresh offensive into northern Syria.
Turkey has been hostile to Syrian leader Bashar Assad, and backed rebels calling for his removal. But last week Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu enraged the Syrian opposition by calling for reconciliation between the regime and the rebels.


66 people killed as Sudan floods continue to tear up homes

66 people killed as Sudan floods continue to tear up homes
Updated 16 August 2022

66 people killed as Sudan floods continue to tear up homes

66 people killed as Sudan floods continue to tear up homes
  • Some 24,000 homes and two dozen government buildings have been badly damaged or completely destroyed

CAIRO: Flash floods triggered by heavy rains continued to tear up homes across Sudan, an official said Tuesday, with the death toll rising to 66 since the start of the rainy season.

Earlier this week, authorities had said that at least 50 people were killed since the rains started in June. Brig. Gen. Abdul-Jalil Abdul-Rahim, spokesman for Sudan’s National Council for Civil Defense, said Tuesday that at least 28 people were reported injured during the same period.

Some 24,000 homes and two dozen government buildings have been badly damaged or completely destroyed, he said.

Sudan has been without a functioning government since an October military coup derailed its short-lived democratic transition following the 2019 removal of former ruler Omar Bashir in a popular uprising.

Overall, around 136,000 people have been impacted by heavy rainfall and floods in 12 of Sudan’s 18 provinces, according to the government-run Humanitarian Aid Commission.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the floods also inundated 238 health facilities. The western Darfur region and the provinces of Nile River, White Nile, West Kordofan and South Kordofan were among the hardest hit, it said.

Footage circulated online over the past weeks showing flood waters sweeping through streets and people struggling to save their belongings.

Sudan’s rainy season usually starts in June and lasts until the end of September, with floods peaking in August and September. More than 80 people were killed last year in flood-related incidents during the rainy season.

In 2020, authorities declared Sudan a natural disaster area and imposed a three-month state of emergency across the country after flooding and heavy rains killed around 100 people and inundated over 100,000 houses.


Palestinians outraged as Israeli archaeologists dig up village

Palestinians outraged as Israeli archaeologists dig up village
Updated 16 August 2022

Palestinians outraged as Israeli archaeologists dig up village

Palestinians outraged as Israeli archaeologists dig up village
  • Teams from Bar Ilan University are working at multiple sites in Nabi Saleh
  • Villager says digs are ‘just an excuse to take control of our land later’

RAMALLAH: Palestinians have expressed outrage after teams from an Israeli university launched a series of archaeological excavations in a village north of Ramallah.

Residents of Nabi Saleh said the excavations were taking place on their property, although representatives from both Bar Ilan University and the Israeli Civil Administration said the site was classified as “state land” under Israeli control.

According to the university’s website, the archaeological site was inhabited during the Bronze Age and formed part of the city of Timnat Herres, which is described in the Talmud as the place where Joshua bin Nun lived and died. It is therefore evidence of the settlement of Jews in the area.

Pottery and coins found in the area date back to the second century, it said.

Village resident Basim Al-Tamimi, who owns 1,800 square meters of land in one of the areas being excavated, told Arab News he feared the Israeli authorities were trying to take control of his and his uncle’s property.

“Digging in the ground under the pretext of searching for antiquities is just an excuse and a reason to take control of our land later,” he said.

Al-Tamimi led a prominent non-violent resistance in Nabi Saleh from 2009-16 against settlers and the Israeli army after they seized a local water spring. Six Palestinians were killed during the conflict and hundreds more were injured.

Naji Al-Tamimi, the head of the Nabi Saleh village council, told Arab News that the Israeli excavations were concentrated in three places and that each excavation site covered about 100 square meters.

While Israeli archaeologists said the excavation program was set to run from July 25 to Aug. 19 but there are no signs of the digging coming to an end.

“Bar Ilan University is known to be a stronghold of the Israeli right, whose goals are more political than archaeological,” Naji Al-Tamimi said.

“They will claim they have a historical relationship with the region through the presence of the tomb of Joshua bin Nun, and then seize it under that pretext.”

He added that the nearby Halamish settlement had been built on a plot that had earlier been seized from Nabi Saleh and feared the latest dig would lead to more of the village’s land being taken.

As evidence of the land belonging to the state, Bar Ilan University said there had been a Jordanian military base on it in the past, while aerial photographs suggested it had not been worked since 1967.

According to Palestinian government spokesman Ibrahim Melhem, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayieh condemned the excavations and declared the university’s actions as unacceptable and an attempt to “falsify the facts regarding the history of the Palestinian land.”

At his weekly Cabinet meeting, Shtayieh called for Israeli universities to stop digging and excavating antiquities in Palestinian territories.

Meanwhile, Ghassan Al-Khatib, vice president of Birzeit University, told Arab News that international scientific journals had refused to publish archaeological reports on excavations by Israeli teams working in occupied lands in line with international law and the Second Protocol to the Hague Charter.