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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

'Lead by example': health minister asks UAE politicians to quit smoking 

One member suggests alternatives like vaping may help those who struggle

Abdulrahman Al Owais, the Minister of Health, urged members of the FNC that do smoke to give up. Jeffrey Biteng / The National
Abdulrahman Al Owais, the Minister of Health, urged members of the FNC that do smoke to give up. Jeffrey Biteng / The National

The UAE health minister has urged politicians to lead by example and quit smoking, as the country looks to cut heart disease and cancer rates and create a healthier society.

Abdulrahman Al Owais asked Federal National Council speaker Dr Amal Al Qubaisi to suggest that all members who do smoke to quit soon and vote to pledge to do so.

“I personally suffer a lot when I see smokers amongst my friends and members [of the council], so I hope that the council starts an initiative for all to quit smoking,” the minister said.

“This will probably be the most difficult vote,” replied Dr Al Qubaisi.

“We have a number of smokers between us, and we wish that they develop the will to cooperate with this initiative - firstly for their health and also so they can be role models for other and in front of their children.”

All 40 members backed the vote. Smoking can cause cancer and heart disease, which is responsible for 3 in every 10 deaths in the UAE>.

“It’s a good sign that all voted and hopefully this will be a good initiative,” she said.

Dr Al Owais made his request after answering a question by FNC member Saeed Al Remeithi about how effective the national anti-tobacco committee has been.

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“Recent figures show that 21 per cent of the UAE population are smokers, and 15 per cent of them are under 18, so this is what we are concerned about," said the Abu Dhabi representative.

“Now the UAE is paying a lot of attention towards its youth, and the age group between 16 and 17 has a high smoking rate, so we have to take a joint stance.”

Mr Al Remeithi said he has not seen anything that specifically targets young people.

Dr Al Owais said the number of specialist clinics that help people quit smoking has increased from six to 14 across the UAE. He said there was a 24 per cent increase in the number of people who visited the clinics quitting, without giving figures.

Dr Saeed Al Mutawa, who represents Sharjah, said the law should allow the legal sale of some vapour devices, to help smokers quit, though he said e-cigarettes remain harmful. The import and sale of such products is prohibited, though they are available on the grey market and the act of buying and using them is not illegal.

“When you try to quit, you start to reduce the amount of nicotine, and lead to a decrease in smoking," he said.

"It is not a cigarette in the sense, and in the end you are using water vapour.”

FNC member Saleh Al Ameri, who is a smoker, said there are no benefits at all.

“There are some things that have advantages and disadvantages, but smoking, none at all," he told The National.

He said as far as he knows there are between five to and seven FNC members who do smoke, roughly in line with the percentage of the population.

He made a quick calculation, based on old tobacco prices before the new tax from October 1, and suggested a heavy smoker could spend Dh15,000 a year on tobacco or Dh150,000 in ten years.

“With this amount you could build a mosque or church, and in the end Allah will ask us what we spent our money on.”