x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 September 2017

All cigarette packs to display stark health warnings

Every cigarette pack sold in the GCC will display stark warnings about the damaging health effects of smoking in less than two months.

All cigarette packs sold in the GCC will display stark warnings about the damaging health effects of smoking in less than two months.

The initiative, said Dr Rajeh Al Fahel, a senior regional officer for the Health Authority Abu Dhabi's health promotion department, will have an effect on smokers, especially younger ones.

A study by the authority in 2009, which pre-tested the effectiveness of the packaging, showed that, overall, graphic images had a sobering effect on smokers.

Dr Al Fahel said: "Of the 24 images we showed the groups, some people had different perceptions about the different graphics, but the message was still the same. It is very important we use images in this manner, to show the harmful effects of smoking.

"It will also show young people that tobacco companies are [making] you this addicted."

Five out of 10 pre-selected photos, from the World Health Organisation, will be placed on all cigarette packets coming into the UAE.

The GCC Standard Organisation has given the green light to the move across the rest of the region.

"About 70 per cent" of smokers in Abu Dhabi want to quit, but don't know how, said Dr Al Fahel.

With the introduction of the new packaging, the UAE must then take into consideration the amount of support a new wave of people quitting will require, said the doctor.

But authorities need to be aware the move will not affect everyone, said Prof Andrew Mitchell, who teaches at Melbourne Law School, and who presented at the symposium, which concluded yesterday.

He said: "It is aimed more at discouraging people from starting up smoking. It will have less affect on those who are already addicted.

"It will assist young people to stop smoking, which is critical. It will de-normalise the product."

This year's GCC smoking symposium saw doctors highlight the pressures of fighting the tobacco industry.

And as part of the UAE's continuous battle, the Ministry of Finance will impose its e-Tobacco programme in 2014.

The programme, which will ensure that importers of tobacco products coming into the country have paid the obligatory taxes, will be introduced on January 1, 2014.

The first phase will see that all cigarette packets come in a plastic cover that has an official seal - allowing the ministry to track and trace them.

"This is called Fiscal Marker Tear Tape, and it indicates if a tax has been paid," said Sara Saheb Al Habshi, a senior financial controller at the ministry.

The programme will help to eliminate the sale of counterfeit or smuggled tobacco products, and will give the Ministry of Health a better understanding of the extent of smoking in the country.

"Will this help people stop? Definitely," said Ms Al Habshi.

zalhassani@thenational.ae