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One of the new visual health warnings that will appear on cigarette packets in the UAE.
One of the new visual health warnings that will appear on cigarette packets in the UAE.

Smoking kills - now pack will say so with gruesome new images

Government to make cigarettes more expensive, harder to find and marked with images to shock.

ABU DHABI // Graphic health warnings, including images of an unborn child inhaling smoke from its mother, will soon be printed on all cigarette packets. The stark visuals, which also include a snake coiled around a shisha pipe, are designed to encourage smokers to quit, or at least cut back, as the UAE takes steps to implement its anti-smoking legislation.

The warnings are expected to be introduced alongside other tough measures, from mandatory licences for cigarette vendors to the banning of cigarette sales near schools. It is believed officials are also considering restrictions on cigarette sales near mosques and hospitals. Dr Wedad al Maidoor, the head of the National Tobacco Control Committee, said once implemented the law should have a huge impact on the availability of cigarettes. She said getting the images on the packets was being worked out by the Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology, and would be discussed at a meeting next month.

"We are very pleased to be at this stage," she said. "The final implementation will be discussed next month, so we hope it will be done soon. It will involve many authorities to ensure it is done properly and people comply." The committee will discuss how to ensure all packets imported to the UAE carry the right pictures, which have been provided by Canadian health authorities. The warnings will be introduced throughout the GCC. Packets sold in Egypt, Jordan and Iran already carry warnings. Other measures, such as banning the sale of single cigarettes, are also on the agenda, Dr al Maidoor said.

"Of course we should not sell cigarettes near schools, or sell single cigarettes as this makes them too available," Dr. al Maidoor said. Al Nahda National School for Boys in Abu Dhabi, for example, has at least two stores selling cigarettes within a few hundred metres. Dr Mohammed Bakour, the vice principal of the school, said banning the sale of cigarettes close to school was a big step. Families in the UAE were often on friendly terms with people working in their local grocers, and this acted as a deterrent for children, he added. "Supermarkets here make deliveries of groceries to the home" he said. "Parents can easily find out if their children are buying cigarettes from shops near to home and children know that."

Surrounding Al Nahda, said Dr Bakour, there are at least two or three supermarkets within a one or two-minute walk, which cater to several schools in the area. "Students hang out at these shops, buy snacks and drinks, and of course, buy cigarettes. So if this law is implemented, it will really help in curbing smoking among youth," he said. Peter Lugg, principal at Cambridge High School in Abu Dhabi, also welcomed the idea of stopping cigarette sales in supermarkets near schools. He said it should have been introduced "a long time ago".

What is essential, Mr Lugg added, is for the section of the law that stipulates cigarettes are not sold to those under the age of 18 to be implemented and upheld. "This is really a question of the integrity of grocers. They have to demand identification and refrain from selling cigarettes illegally," he said. Another solution is for schools to keep a tab on students once the school day is over, said Mr Lugg.

Another proposal would require cigarette vendors to purchase licences from the Ministry of Economy. "They will be expensive. If they break the law, the licence will be taken away from them," said Dr al Maidoor. When GCC health ministers met last month in Kuwait. they reviewed a legislation model produced by the World Health Organisation to guide countries in introducing strict laws to curb tobacco use.

The document includes banning smoking in public places, improving smoking cessation services, using picture warnings on packets, banning tobacco advertising and sponsorship and raising taxes. It also places heavy emphasis on monitoring and limiting tobacco use, particularly among vulnerable groups. "It is a basic document for us to use as a reference. We will use this when we are implementing our own law," said Dr al Maidoor.

The basics of the new smoking law were revealed in January but officials are now working on completing the full agenda which details how the law will be implemented, exactly what areas are covered, and who will ensure it is enforced. Dr al Maidoor said the full announcement would be accompanied by mass awareness campaigns informing everyone of their rights. @Email:munderwood@thenational.ae

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