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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 20 August 2018

UAE excise tax encourages more smokers to try to quit in 2018

Increased demand for cessation clinics show tobacco tax is working, doctors say

Tobacco-related diseases kill 6 million people each year, which will rise to more than 8 million by 2030. Christopher Pike / The National
Tobacco-related diseases kill 6 million people each year, which will rise to more than 8 million by 2030. Christopher Pike / The National

A surge in the numbers of smokers looking to quit in 2018 has been attributed by doctors to the high price of cigarettes following last year's introduction of a tax on tobacco.

Cessation programmes run by the Cleveland Clinic in Abu Dhabi and the Dubai Health Authority have seen a spike in the number of smokers looking to give up cigarettes in the first weeks of the new year.

A ‘sin tax’ on cigarettes was introduced during the fourth quarter of 2017, pushing up prices by 100 per cent. The price increase has been cited as one of the driving forces behind long-term smokers attending cessation clinics to seek help from doctors to kick the habit.

“More people are coming to us looking for help in quitting as awareness is rising about the long-term health risks of smoking and its impact on the wider community,” said Iyaad Hasan, a certified tobacco treatment specialist who leads the Cleveland Clinic program in Abu Dhabi.

“As well as being the world’s biggest preventable cause of cancer, smoking increases your chances of having a fatal heart attack and increases your risk of developing complications from diabetes.”

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Dr Hasan said patients are reporting that pressure from other family members, health concerns and rising costs are among the most common reasons prompting them to seek help quitting.

Almost 200 smokers attended the 2017 quit programme, with early indications showing that record could be broken this year.

Doctors at the hospital’s Respiratory & Critical Care Institute are now looking to expand the project to keep up with demand.

Each smoker is offered an individual programme to follow towards a ‘quit date’ and beyond to help adopt a healthier lifestyle and to avoid slipping back into old habits.

According to the latest Abu Dhabi Health Survey published by the Department of Health in December, cancer was the third biggest cause of mortality in the emirate in 2016, accounting for 15 per cent of deaths after cardiovascular disease (37 per cent) and injuries (20 per cent).

While cigarettes are the highest profile threat to public health, medwakh and shisha, which continue to be popular in the UAE, also pose a significant risk.

On average 300 smokers currently attend the DHA’s cessation clinics, which are located in Al Barsha and Twar Health Centres.

The clinics have reported an increase in the quitting rate of its smoking patients to 16 per cent.

“The majority of patients that visited the DHA’s cessation clinics tried to stop the habit only after tobacco use took a life-threatening toll on their health,” said Dr Hanan Obaid, head of Acute & Chronic Diseases Unit at the DHA’s Primary Health Care Sector.

“Most of them came to us only after they experienced first-hand the health repercussions of tobacco. They were referred to us after they had a heart attack or stroke or another chronic disease that was triggered by tobacco.

“While this reflects the strong referral system that we have in place, it is also highly unfortunate that people only think of quitting after they have suffered the dire health consequences of tobacco use.”

Most patients attending quit clinics in Dubai are aged between 25 and 45. The centres offer a holistic approach to help smokers.

Tobacco smoke is a mix of more than 4,000 chemicals, of which 250 are toxic and at least 50 are known to cause cancer.

People who quit smoking have a lower risk of lung cancer but their risk is higher than the risk of people who never smoked.

“Tobacco dependence is a behavioural, cognitive and physiological phenomenon and therefore we provide medical, psychological and social support,” said Dr Obaid.

“The clinic reaches out to smokers to help them cope with nicotine withdrawal symptoms, which is a factor that often dissuades them from stubbing the habit.

“Almost 95 per cent of smokers that come to our centre are men who are fathers and husbands and have a responsibility towards their family and especially their young children.

“Smoking cessation is possible; they just have to take the first step towards it.”

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