The impact of the smoking ban implemented this week may be muted because the legislation was not accompanied by an increase in cigarette prices, experts say. Although the price of some cigarette packs already reflect a tax of between 30 and 45 per cent, this is still below average for the GCC. Tax data is provided by Tobacco Atalas (TA), a collaborative research effort by the American Cancer Society and the World Lung Foundation.
Studies released in 2007 by the US-based Centres for Disease Control found a strong correlation between cigarette prices and smoking prevalence, particularly among young smokers. According to these findings, every 10 per cent increase in the price of cigarettes corresponds with a seven per cent decrease in youth smoking rates. Tobacco tax policies in the EU and North America where a pack of cigarettes can cost Dh40 (US$11), more than the price of a fast food meal have relied on this measure to discourage smoking over the past decade.
But in the UAE, the TA data indicate, the real price of cigarettes has dropped over the past decade. "I know for expatriates, if cigarettes were more expensive they would smoke less," said Dr Micheline Bombaert, a general practitioner at Al Hamra Centre in Abu Dhabi. According to a World Health Organisation report published in 2009, a sweeping ban on smoking in public places is only one in six steps to a comprehensive, country-wide anti-smoking policy.
Raising the price of tobacco products and reaching the young before they pick up a smoking habit are essential, it said. The UAE has some of the cheapest cigarettes in the region available for Dh2 per pack even cheaper than cigarettes in impoverished places such as Sudan and the Gaza Strip, according to the WHO. The average cost of a pack in the UAE is about Dh7. Some local experts say tobacco prices in the UAE should at least triple to discourage some smokers, even if for many young Emiratis price is not a factor.
"People who have access to money will buy it regardless of the price," said Dr Nabil Debouni, a consultant surgeon and medical director at Lifeline Hospital. "Mainly, the people I'm most concerned about are locals. Young Emiratis." firstname.lastname@example.org