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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

More enforcement needed to curb smoking in UAE, say experts 

Despite the recent tobacco tax, WHO gave the UAE has an overall C grading in its efforts to help smokers quit and reduce smoking-related deaths

Professor Scott Sherman, associate professor of medicine at the New York University School of Medicine, says the UAE was awarded an A grade from the World Health Organisation for its stance on advertising. Reem Mohammed / The National
Professor Scott Sherman, associate professor of medicine at the New York University School of Medicine, says the UAE was awarded an A grade from the World Health Organisation for its stance on advertising. Reem Mohammed / The National

A 100 per cent tobacco tax has not gone far enough to encourage smokers to quit according to health experts who are calling for better enforcement of non-smoking areas in public places.

A Public Health Forum at the Arab Health Congress in Dubai discussed the latest anti-tobacco measures and what countries need to do to improve their rating on a World Health Organisation scale.

In 2017, WHO graded countries according to the quality of their anti-tobacco policies to include economic measures as well as health interventions.

Despite the recent tobacco tax, the UAE has an overall C grading in its efforts to help smokers quit and reduce smoking-related deaths.

“This rating isn’t the worst, but it isn’t great,” said Professor Scott Sherman, associate professor of medicine at the New York University School of Medicine in New York.

“To get an A rating, a nation’s healthcare organisation, schools or universities, restaurants and bars should all be completely smoke free.

“The UAE was not given a grade for its smoke-free indoor areas, but it would likely have been a C or a D.

Visitors of the Arab Health Conference smoke outside the Dubai World Trade Centre. Reem Mohammed / The National
Visitors of the Arab Health Conference smoke outside the Dubai World Trade Centre. Reem Mohammed / The National

“In my experience, some restaurants have smoking areas, and some have small non-smoking areas so there is progress to be made making all areas smoke-free.

“The UAE did get an A grade for helping to stop tobacco use. Ideally, nicotine replacement therapies should be as accessible as cigarettes for a country to achieve a top rating.”

WHO criteria included tax recommendations, indoor smoking regulations, advertising regulations, smoking prevention policy and how to protect passive smokers from harmful fumes.

WHO offered the UAE a grade A for its stance on advertising, as it has widely banned tobacco promotion and sponsorship.

It was awarded a D grade in raising tobacco taxes, despite implementing a 100 per cent tax on tobacco products in October.

“As a high income country, this is anticipated to potentially reduce the prevalence of smoking by 40 per cent,” Professor Sherman said.

“The harder it is for people to smoke, the less likely they are to start smoking. The best way to spend new taxes generated from tobacco is on helping people through proper smoking cessation programmes.

“Rules anywhere don’t matter unless they are enforced properly.”

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While e-cigarettes have been promoted and supported as a smoking cessation aid in the UK, they remain banned in the UAE due to a lack of research over the harmful effects of long term use.

A study conducted by researchers from the New York University School of Medicine found that e-cigarette users are possibly putting themselves at risk for developing heart disease, lung and bladder cancers.

Researchers exposed mice to e-cigarette smoke for 12 weeks at a dose and duration equivalent to light e-cigarette smoking for 10 years in humans.

By the end of the trial, the smoke had caused DNA damage in the animals' lungs, bladders and hearts, as well as limiting lung proteins and DNA repair.

Currently, 18 million Americans smoke e-cigarettes. Sixteen per cent of those users are high school pupils, according to the report.

Manufacturers have advertised the devices as a safer alternative to traditional tobacco products.

The Arab Health forum also highlighted a study that found shisha bar workers are six times more likely to suffer the ill effects of passive smoking than non-smokers.

A 2013 UAE Global Youth Tobacco Survey also found 9.9 per cent of boys admitted to smoking medwakh and just 3.1 per cent of girls.

Of those who had tried it, only 39 per cent said they had been refused due to age.

Medwakh is the smoke of choice for young people and students as it offers a quick hit, leaves little smell and does not leave as much smoke as conventional cigarettes.

“Medwahk is becoming very popular amongst students and there are many videos posted on social media showing young people smoking dokha,” said Dr Mohammed Al Houqani, associate professor and consultant of respiratory and sleep medicine at the UAE University in Al Ain.

“You can buy this anywhere. It is cheap and takes just one or two puffs. They can smoke inside the house, without setting off smoke detectors so it is very popular with students.”