x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Cigarette packs to soon carry grisly images

Images of smoke-damaged human organs should be on cigarette packs before the end of the year.

DUBAI // Cigarette packs will carry images of smoke-damaged human organs before the end of the year if by-laws are passed as planned.

"My expectation [is that the bylaws will be passed] before the end of 2011," Dr Wedad al Maidour, the head of the Ministry of Health's National Tobacco Control Committee, said yesterday.

"It is already now raised to the Cabinet … and Prime Minister, and we are waiting."

Among the proposed by-laws, which are part of a federal law decreed in 2009, is a ruling that tobacco companies must print images of smoke-damaged organs on cigarette packs.

Dr Fatima el Awa, the regional adviser for the Tobacco Free Initiative Programme at the World Health Organisation (WHO), said she also believed the health warnings would be introduced soon.

"We are hopeful that very soon the UAE, together with all Gulf states, will implement the GCC specification for health warnings, and that includes a picture along with text warnings," Dr el Awa said.

The Ministry of Health will conduct a survey of 8,000 homes to help create more targeted tobacco awareness programmes.

The ministry said yesterday it would conduct the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (Gats), first initiated by the WHO in 2007, before the end of the year.

"This is the first survey of its kind to be implemented in the eastern Mediterranean region and it is part of a bigger surveillance system that has been implemented in the last 10 years called Global Tobacco Surveillance System," said Dr el Awa.

"Gats is a household survey which assesses all the indicators related to tobacco use, so the Ministry of Health can address the problem in a comprehensive way and have a better idea about attitudes, prevalence and gaps in legislation."

She said the Gats results would help the ministry reduce smoking by a set percentage in a set amount of time.

"Plans of action will change and legislation will change - this is not a hit-and-run survey," Dr el Awa said.

The team to implement Gats includes representatives from WHO, the Ministry of Health, the Centre for Disease Control and the National Statistical Agency.

Emiratis and expatriates above the age of 16 will be surveyed in 8,000 households across the UAE.

The questionnaire consists of a core section and an optional section, where each participating country can propose questions it believes will result in helpful indicators.

The survey is likely to be completed by the end of this year or in the first two months of next year.

Dr el Awa said she hoped to present the results on World No Tobacco Day next year.

"If you look at the prevalence of smoking among young women in the UAE compared to older women, you will see it clearly … if these trends of the young consuming tobacco continue, we will end up with a much higher prevalence," said Dr el Awa.

"What I find more alarming is the number of students between the ages of 13 and 15 who are looking at initiating smoking within a year. They are not smokers now but they would like to start smoking.

Dr al Maidour said a school-based survey conducted last year among students aged between 15 and 18 showed more than 10 per cent had smoked a cigarette in the past 30 days.

The average age of people who use services in the ministry clinics to try to stop smoking is 16.

"I always tell people tobacco control is here to stay … of course they [tobacco companies] are more powerful in terms of resources than us, but we have the scientific truth with us and that is more powerful for people than profit," said Dr el Awa.

balqabbani@thenational.ae