DUBAI // Ali Redha Yousef Zawari was 16 when he started smoking. By the age of 33, he was getting through two packs of cigarettes a day and had difficulty breathing while exercising.
The Iranian feared for his health, but as a smoker for more than half his life, he worried he would not have the willpower to quit.
Mr Zawari is not alone. An alarming number of children smoke.
A Dubai Municipality campaign next month will target universities and schools to ensure pupils and students understand the health risks of smoking.
Doctors and speakers will visit two to three educational institutions every month as part of a year-long initiative. Free Nicorette patches will also be distributed to smokers who want to quit.
"Students can even approach us for advice in private if they prefer," said Dr Munir Hamad, of the Public Health Services Department at the municipality.
Ten years ago, 5 per cent of women smoked. Today, about 25 per cent do, Dr Hamad said.
Rosana Enrique Dumapit, a nurse at the municipality, said social pressure was to blame.
"Many of these women are at an age of curiosity," she said. "They have the money to buy cigarettes, they see their friends doing it and they try to fit in with the rest of the group."
The department established a smoking clinic last month, open to everyone eager to kick the habit. The idea for it came after World Anti Tobacco Day in June, during which the municipality offered 100 smokers free treatment for three months once they registered.
According to Dr Hamad, only those who were "serious about quitting and had the willpower to do so were chosen" from residents and government department employees, including Dubai Police, Roads and Transport Authority and Civil Defence.
Mr Zawari was one of 100 people selected and is now almost two months into his treatment, which he credits for saving his life.
"I was weightlifting and the difficulty breathing got worse. I went to the clinic and told them I didn't have much time and they should start me immediately," he said.
The smell of smoke now makes Mr Zawari uncomfortable, much to the surprise of friends.
"I haven't had a cigarette since I started the programme and never intend to," he said. "I am exercising again, my breathing is better and I even put on weight as my appetite is healthy."