x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

One in five teenage boys in UAE smokes, report finds

A World Health Organisation report has found that 21.3 per cent of 13 to 15-year-olds in the UAE use tobacco products.

Smokers who start young, despite the risks associated with the habit, often do not realise the negative effects until it is too late. Pawan Singh / The National
Smokers who start young, despite the risks associated with the habit, often do not realise the negative effects until it is too late. Pawan Singh / The National

ABU DHABI // Levels of tobacco use by young people were described as shocking on Monday after a new study found one in five boys aged 13 to 15 was a smoker.

Experts said teenage smoking was on the rise and blamed cheap cigarettes and inadequate education on the health risks.

“One in five – of course this is a very high figure,” said Wedad Al Maidoor, head of the tobacco control committee at the Ministry of Health.

“We know that youth smoking is at a high rate and smoking among the young is on the increase.

“The use is high but the good thing is we are acting on this. The sale to teenagers is very highly controlled and marketing of tobacco is not allowed any more.

“Smoke-free areas are increasing and increasing across the UAE. We are making progress.”

Dr Al Maidoor said campaigns such as Too Smart to Start, a three-year drive educating young people aged 10 to 18 about the health risks of tobacco, will further encourage youngsters to stub out the habit.

“They should be smart enough not to choose this habit in order to prolong their life, their families’ lives and their country,” she said.

A World Health Organisation study in 194 countries found that 21.3 per cent of boys and 9 per cent of girls aged 13 to 15 in the UAE used tobacco, and most preferred cigarettes to other products such as shisha or dokha. Among adults, 28 per cent of men and 2.4 per cent of women smoke, the study found.

The UAE ranked 10th of 22 Eastern Mediterranean countries for smoking by teenage boys. Lebanon was top with 41.9 per cent, followed by Qatar on 41.8 per cent, Jordan on 34.1 per cent, Bahrain on 33.5 per cent, Iran on 32.9 per cent, the West Bank and Gaza Strip on 32.5 per cent, Syria on 31.6 per cent, Kuwait on 25 per cent and Djibouti on 22.7 per cent.

Dr Hanan Obaid, head of the community health services programme at the Dubai Health Authority, said the study reflected a worrying prevalence of young smokers.

“Studies show that 80 per cent of those who start smoking as a teenager continue to smoke as an adult. This is why it is a really important age group.”

The authority is conducting its own study to look at smoking trends among teenagers.

Dr Saicharan Bodi, a respiratory physician at Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi, was not surprised at the figures.

“It is shocking but unfortunately this is a true reflection of the smoking prevalence among 13 to 15-year-olds in the UAE,” he said.

“Awareness should start between the ages of 10 to 12 because by the time they are 13 to 15 they have already got the habit.”

Those who start smoking or using tobacco products at a young age will find it far harder to kick the habit later in life, he said.

Unfortunately, he said, many young tobacco users do not realise the negative effects until later in life – when it is often too late.

In addition to respiratory problems, smoking is the single biggest risk factor for developing lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cardiovascular disease – all of which are now being diagnosed in younger people, said Dr Bodi.

The cheapest cigarettes in the UAE cost Dh2, and branded cigarettes such as Marlboro cost about Dh8. “This is definitely a factor in the habit of smoking,” said Dr Bodi. In countries such as the UK, where tobacco is heavily taxed, branded cigarettes cost the equivalent of about Dh50.

The World Health Organisation report, the fourth in a series, looked at the worldwide prevalence of smoking and what measures each member country was taking to prevent tobacco use, which is the leading global cause of preventable death.

The report noted the UAE’s strict anti-tobacco rules and policies, with direct bans on tobacco advertisements and promotions in national and international TV and radio, local and international newspapers and magazine and billboard, outdoor and point of sale advertising.

The report also noted the work of GCC countries to introduce graphic warnings on cigarette packets to deter smokers. The packaging was introduced in August last year.

jbell@thenational.ae