Forty per cent of UAE school students in their early teens are in the country’s ever-growing list of smokers, a senior health official has said.
In a presentation made at the the 20th session of the Gulf Committee of Tobacco Control in the Saudi capital Riyadh, Dr Wedad Al Maidoor, team leader of tobacco control at the UAE Ministry of Health said the figure grew from 24 per cent in 2005 and covered students of both sexes in the 13-15 year age group, reported Sharjah-based Arabic daily Al Khaleej.
Of this, she said an alarming rise is also seen in the number of female students, 28 per cent of whom now smoke compared to 14 per cent in 2005. This is despite a country-wide ban on selling cigarettes to anyone below 18.
Quoting WHO figures, she said the number of women smokers in the country doubled to 2 per cent of those who smoked.
An alarming rise is seen in the number of students of either sex taking to smoking in the UAE’s schools.
Attributing the rise in smokers among young people to popular media, Maidoor said they get guided by movies, internet and satellite TV channels.
However, she said most of the students who smoke come from families where either or both parents are smokers.
Dwelling on health complications, she said smoking was the second major cause of death in the UAE where a total of 19 per cent of the population smoke according to a WHO study. This places the country second only to Qatar – where 37 per cent of the people smoke – in the GCC region.
To curb smoking and thereby reduce the associated health risks, she called for increased awareness among young and old alike.
There are 1.3 billion smokers in the world, 84 per cent of them concentrated in low and middle income groups. The figure is expected to balloon to 1.7 billion by 2025.
The Arab world is in focus with Yemen topping the region with 60 per cent of its population being smokers.
On the controversies surrounding electronic cigarettes which allow smokers to get the nicotine doses without actually puffing away on conventional cigarettes, Maidoor said it should never be allowed. Already banned in the region, since it is found to be just another alternative for tobacco products, she said it only promoted smoking rather than curbing it.
She said the UAE banned the product after consulting with the relevant authorities. The Dubai Municipality had recently slapped fines of Dh5,000 each on retail shops found violating the law to sell the product.
The e-cigarettes, as they are called, are made of stainless steel and has a chamber to store liquid nicotine.
Resembling a real cigarette, it runs on a re-chargeable battery that allows nicotine to be vaporised and absorbed by the “smoker”. The WHO has warned that product can cause lung cancer.
The Food and Drug Administration in the USA had recently warned against its use since they contain carcinogens and toxic chemicals such as diethylene glycol.
Participants at the Riyadh conference also called for a complete ban on chewing tobacco.