(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) Tobacco use is a serious problem in the Gulf with every third person over the age of 20 smoking. Experts at a conference in the Capital on Wednesday attributed this to tobacco companies shifting their investment to the region as a result of effective anti-tobacco campaigns in the US and Europe.
"The situation is very serious for tobacco users in the GCC. We have seen in the past 10 years that the GCC has been targeted by the tobacco industry as an alternative solution for their use and consumption," stated Professor Tawfik Khoja, director-general of the executive board, Heath Ministers Council for the Cooperation Council at the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Citing a United Nations report in 2009 on youth consumption of tobacco, Professor Khoja said Yemen was ranked first among the Arab countries and internationally, while Lebanon came second.
At the GCC level, Saudi Arabia is the first with 22 per cent of its young people smoking. Kuwait is second at 17.5 per cent, UAE 12.3 per cent, Bahrain 10.2 per cent, Oman 7 per cent and Qatar 6.2 per cent.
"The mean age of those starting to smoke in the GCC is 13.8, so this means between the ages of 15 and 19, almost 20 per cent of are smoking.
Speaking on the second day of the first Arabian Gulf Public Health Research Conference, hosted by the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR), he noted that prevalence of smoking among the youth in these countries is increasing from 13 to 15 years and consumption among the male youth is around 29 per cent.
According to Dr Wedad Al Maidoor, director of Public Health at the Dubai Health Centres and head of Tobacco Control Team at the Ministry of Health (MoH), tobacco is the world's leading killer, more than highly infectious diseases, killing six million people every year.
"Every eighth second, a person dies due to tobacco use. And if the current trend persists, tobacco will kill one billion in the 21st century. People who smoke have death rates three times higher than those who don't smoke, and this is a great challenge."
A national health survey carried out in 2010 in the UAE showed that of the 25.4 per cent of adults tobacco users, 18 per cent are in Dubai. Among the three types of tobacco, cigarette is the most preferred with 6.24 billion sticks on average. Over 1,000 cafes all over the country offer shisha while midwakh has seen dramatic increase in consumption especially among the youth.
"Our goal is to eliminate tobacco use through primary intervention, trying to reduce the burden of tobacco morbidity and mortality," Dr Al Maidoor pointed out.
She noted the successful reinforcement of the bylaws of the Federal Tobacco Control Law 15/2009, on January 21 which "we were waiting for four years."
The anti-tobacco law covers the usage and sale of cigarettes, advertising and growing of tobacco. It also bans smoking in vehicles with a child younger than 12 years and is aimed at reducing smoking among youth by forbidding the sale of cigarettes to those below 18 years and at locations near schools and places of worship.
Dr Mohammed Al Yamani, chairman of Naqaa' Society to Combat Smoking in Saudi Arabia, noted the importance of prevention.
"Prevention of smoking is the most effective intervention by all authorities," he pointed out.