Smoking in the Middle East

Smoking is unfortunately a very common habit all over the Middle East. People light up EVERYWHERE with the exception of hospitals. There is no such thing as a non-smoking area in any public space and you are always inhaling second-hand smoke. Airports, shops, malls, restaurants, offices- you name it and people are smoking there. “No smoking” signs are routinely ignored by smokers. KSA is the largest tobacco importer in the world and no place is smoke free.

Arab News reports that:

It is estimated that 35 to 40 percent of the people in the Kingdom above the age of 15 smoke. Around 24 percent of male students between the ages of 13 to 15 and eight percent of girl students smoke.

What is great however is that the KSA Ministry of Health is starting to get serious about addressing the problem. A few initiatives (reported by Saudi Gazette and Arab News) that are in place or about to be introduced are the following:

  • Smokers will no longer be employed at the Ministry of Health
  • Companies associated with tobacco companies will be barred from MoH contracts
  • Health insurance will be higher for smokers
  • Anti-smoking clinics are being set up
  • The MoH has filed a lawsuit against 13 tobacco companies in the order of SAR 127 billion (~$33 billion!)
  • A new law is being drafted to:
  • fine people SAR 200 for smoking in public
  • have separate smoking and non-smoking areas in public places
  • youth under 18 years old should not be allowed into smoking areas

Some of the initiatives will also be proposed to other GCC countries. It would be wonderful if these are implemented all over the MENA region – and Asia too while we are at it!

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5 Responses

  1. I really hope it works out…

    Some of them are already effective in other ME countries like UAE where under 18s are not even allowed to buy tobacco from shops.

  2. Quitting is very difficult. One thing that is often overlooked is that smoking is both a physical and mental addiction. Simply addressing the physical cravings is not enough to insure lasting success.

    It is also difficult to measure the effect of culture on smoking. But I hope that the initiatives are successful.

  3. Haven’t the people here been educated about the hazards to one’s health caused by smoking? And doesn’t Islam teach to take care of our bodies? Smoking is ok, but don’t touch a piece of bacon? This is yet another gray area about life here that just doesn’t make sense to me…

  4. HishMaj: me too!

    Stop Smoking Today: the cultural aspect will def be hardest as it is considered OK by everyone to smoke. People just don’t consider it a bad thing. BTW, people do stop smoking in the daytime during the month of Ramadan

    Susie: there are insufficient awareness campaigns unfortunately. And not enough people know about religion either- they tend to approach things more culturally than religiously. There are some fatwas declaring smoking haram but why pay attention to them if it’s not convenient! The muttawas need to go after this like they do sheesha/hubbly-bubbly (publicly banned in Riyadh)

  5. I I hope all these changes come to reality.. especially the public smoking one! I can not stand going out to the mall to shop, and coming home smelling like I went on a smoking spree instead of a shopping spree! YUK!

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