x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

UAE studies trends on teen smoking

A national survey, carried out by the Ministry of Health (MoH), will question 3,500 teenagers aged between 13 and 15.

Thousands of schoolchildren will be surveyed in the next few months to determine the prevalence of smoking among teenagers.

The national survey, carried out by the Ministry of Health, will question 3,500 children aged between 13 and 15.

This will be the third such survey carried out in the past decade. The first was in 2002, with a sample size of 5,000, and the most recent was in 2005, with about 10,000 respondents.

The previous surveys found that the number of male smokers doubled, from 14.5 to 30 per cent over the three years, while the number of female smokers rose by an alarming rate from 2.9 to 14 per cent - an almost five-fold increase.

The third survey should be complete by spring, said Dr Wedad Al Maidoor, head of the tobacco control committee at the ministry.

"We hope to start within two weeks, or the beginning of March, because this depends on the schools, and whether or not it is exam time. We will need to have one month to complete it," he said.

Multiple-choice questionnaires will be given to a cross-section of pupils in 50 schools - an equal mix of public and private - across the country.

"The questions are with regards to what they feel, [and] what are their impressions about smoking tobacco at this age. Another group of questions will focus around advertising, and if they see it," said Dr Al Maidoor.

Last August, the GCC Standards Organisation ruled that all cigarette packets imported into the region had to come with one of three graphic health warnings.

On January 1, the grace period given to retailers to sell their old stock ended.

A local study looking at the habits and attitudes of smokers in relation to the new packaging found that half of 1,473 respondents did not care about it.

But a lack of positive responses from adult smokers should not distract from the country's main target, both on a federal level and with regards to the upcoming study, said Dr Al Maidoor.

By focusing on younger generations, health authorities can make a pre-emptive strike against smoking. "This is the age that is most dangerous. Especially in this region," she said.

In the local study, 40 per cent of smokers started in their teenage years, with 90 per cent hooked by the end of their twenties.

The anonymous study will help to shape the framework of local enforcement of tobacco control, said Dr Heba Fouad, a tobacco surveillance adviser with Emro, the World Health Organisation's Eastern Mediterranean regional office, who helped to train UAE health workers on how to carry out the study.

The ministry will collaborate with Emro and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention on the study.

zalhassani@thenational.ae