DUBAI // Women and children will be the focus of a year-long, five-phase anti-smoking campaign launched by health officials yesterday. The aim is to stop children from making smoking a life-long habit; they will be shown images demonstrating premature ageing and damage to organs caused by the habit.
Tobacco-free Dubai ... Together For A Society Free From Smoking will involve workshops and lectures in schools and ladies' clubs and associations. Although there are no locally produced figures on smoking, the World Health Organisation's Global Youth Tobacco Survey in 2005 reported that 26 per cent of boys and 14 per cent of girls in the UAE were smokers. Dr Ahmed Ibrahim Kalban, acting head of primary health care at the Dubai Health Authority (DHA), said the campaign would focus primarily on raising awareness about the dangers of smoking but that there also needed to be strategic discussions on the price of cigarettes and warning labels.
"We know that there are more women and young people smoking," he said. "They are smoking more cigarettes and shisha and things. This could be caused by a more stressful lifestyle; life is changing." The campaign, which was launched at Rashid School for Boys yesterday on World No Tobacco Day, will first concentrate on training physicians to provide help with stopping smoking and counselling to anyone wanting to quit.
The second phase will target schools in the emirate in September when many of the pupils are beginning the academic year. Children of all ages will be given lectures and promotional material including photographs of the physical effect of cigarettes. Pupils from Rashid School for Boys have visited wards at Rashid Hospital, meeting patients and doctors to learn about the effects. Dr Amer Sharif, director of human resources at the DHA, said the campaign, particularly the phase focusing on schools, was a much-needed initiative to create awareness about the health implications of smoking.
The third phase will target companies and malls, and the fourth will centre on women. Dr Hanan Obaid, one of the founders of the campaign and head of the Nad Al Sheba health centre, said it was crucial to stress the confidentiality of any education sessions. Women were often reluctant to admit they were smokers. "We want to create awareness among women that smoking increases the risk of miscarriage, low birth weight, premature babies, stillbirth and early menopause, among other diseases," she said.
Phase five will involve evaluating the success of the campaign and looking to creating future projects. Dr Maha Ali Hassan, deputy head of the Nad Al Sheba health centre, will be one of the officials responsible for making it all happen. She said one of the important things was to try to stop young people becoming smokers as it is easier to stop a habit before it starts. "Children younger than 10 and 11 said they have smoked," she said.
"This is what we need to focus on. Reasons include the feeling it gives them or peer pressure." She said some children thought smoking made them "mature". She also said the low price of cigarettes was a problem but this had to be dealt with on a federal level. Cigarettes cost about Dh7 (US$1.90) for a pack of 20, significantly less than in most Western countries. Dr Wedad al Maidoor, head of the National Tobacco Control Committee, told The National that the issue of pricing was being looked at by the Government and it could take up to a year for a decision.
The federal tobacco law which includes rules on growing tobacco, smoking in public places and tobacco advertising is still being reviewed by the Government after being put forward to the Federal National Council by the Ministry of Health earlier this year. Dr al Maidoor also said the UAE was a step closer to printing photographs of tobacco damage on cigarette packets. Other countries in the Middle East including Egypt already sell packs with images including damaged lungs, premature ageing and hospital patients.
Meanwhile, Dubai Municipality launched a month-long No Tobacco campaign yesterday. Zuhoor al Sabbagh, director of the public health services department, said: "The campaign is mainly aimed at youth as most of the people start smoking at an early age. The campaign focuses on the importance of a healthy lifestyle." Nusaiba Hassan Qaid, head of the clinic and community health section, said the campaign would continue through June and after the summer would be spread to the schools in the emirate.
email@example.com * With additional reporting by Praveen Menon