DUBAI // Doctors should be given more help to quit smoking, health professionals say, after a study has revealed one physician in eight is addicted to cigarettes.
A survey of 290 doctors in Dubai found 12 per cent were smokers, although the number could be far higher.
And although that is much less than in the UAE generally - the World Health Organization reported in 2010 that 20.5 per cent of the population smoked - it is still not good enough, says the report's author, Eman Al Amari.
"Doctors should be the role models in society," said Dr Al Amari, a clinical psychologist in Dubai. "The doctor is telling you not to smoke but then you see them in the corridor themselves smoking."
The study, which took more than three years, was published online last month but has yet to appear in an academic journal.
Dr Al Amari said she had noticed the problem was widespread before she conducted the survey. "I remember once I was sitting with a doctor and he was smoking a pipe while talking to a patient. I was so shocked," she said.
The figure is higher than in western countries. Studies have found 7 per cent of US doctors smoked in 2003, and 4 per cent of those in Britain in 1999.
Those numbers are likely to have fallen since the studies, in line with the general decline in smoking in those countries.
In contrast, two studies in 2002 found that 40 per cent of doctors in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and 38 per cent in Turkey, were smokers.
Dr Al Amari had expected the Dubai figure to be higher.
"Most of the physicians were non-locals and some of them didn't give the correct answers, perhaps because of fear of losing their jobs," she said.
Dr Al Amari said doctors should be given training on how to quit and smoking physicians should be barred from certain roles, such as in clinics that assist with tobacco addiction.
"How can I believe a doctor who comes and gives a lecture about smoking when I see him smoking afterwards?" she asked.
Wedad Al Maidoor, a family doctor and head of the tobacco-control team at the Ministry of Health, said the problem was common in the Gulf region.
"Unfortunately it's quite common that doctors are smokers," Dr Al Maidoor said. "They are human beings, and they start smoking at the same time and for the same reasons other people do.
"They know the side effects and hazards from smoking, but they continue using nicotine because it helps them to relax.
"Just like patients, we should enrol them in a programme. We could offer them incentives, like free air tickets, if they participate and quit smoking."
Dr Al Maidoor said the issue had a bearing on whether doctors could do their job properly.
"If I was working in human resources I would not accept a smoker to work as a doctor. At least, I would give him a chance to go on a smoking-cessation programme," she said.
Alaa Aboumabam, who runs an I Quit Smoking franchise, said she had not treated any doctors.
But Ms Aboumabam also works in dentistry and spends a lot of time among doctors - leading her to believe smoking remains common.
"I'm totally not surprised by this," she said. "Even in the hospitals they smoke. Of course, as doctors they know the dangers of smoking but they have surrendered to the addiction."