Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 19 October 2019

UAE rehab centre organises anti-smoking summer camp for schoolchildren

A National Rehabilitation Centre official says there are rising reports of adolescent smoking from local schools

Boys enrolled in the National Rehabilitation Centre's anti-smoking summer camp take part in a group activity. Victor Besa / The National
Boys enrolled in the National Rehabilitation Centre's anti-smoking summer camp take part in a group activity. Victor Besa / The National

Health officials are stepping up efforts to tackle what they say is a worrisome increase in cases of smoking among schoolchildren.

The National Rehabilitation Centre said it was tailoring awareness programmes in response to rising reports of adolescent smoking from local schools.

The Abu Dhabi centre, that primarily rehabilitates drug addicts but also organises smoking cessation courses, held a summer camp for children designed to dissuade them from picking up the dangerous habit.

In its second year, the two-week camp targets Emirati school pupils aged 14 to 16.

Dr Anas Fikri, acting head of health education at the centre, said the goal was to teach children about the dangers of smoking in an engaging way to deter them from making poor health choices later in life.

“We are targeting this age group because most studies indicate that the problem starts at this age. It does not mean that they will start abusing at this stage but they might start choosing negative friends, start negative behaviours such as smoking, bullying and so on,” he said.

Despite efforts from the UAE government and health officials to stave off smoking – including the introduction of the 100 per cent tobacco tax – figures remain stubbornly high.

A study by UAE University published this year, that tracked almost 1,000 men and women over about nine years, found that as many as 42 per cent of Emirati men between the ages 18 and above are smokers.

The camp’s programme hopes to stymie this trend by covering three main areas: teaching pupils national and ethical values; informing them about the dangers of drugs; and helping them develop life skills such as communication, choosing friends and good decision-making.

Twenty-five boys are currently enrolled in the camp and, in two weeks, 25 girls will begin their programme. The camp is tailored for each groups’ tobacco preferences. Women typically prefer shisha and e-cigarettes while Emirati men prefer the medwakh pipe, Dr Fikri said.

“There is a misunderstanding that [e-cigarettes] are safe when they are not,” he said.

“They are all harmful. Girls prefer vape because it is odourless and can be carried with them but it is not less dangerous. Those who move from smoking to e-cigarettes or vape are not moving to a healthier option."

Abdulla Eisa, 17, travels around schools to speak to pupils about the dangers of addiction. Victor Besa / The National
Abdulla Eissa, 17, travels around schools to speak to pupils about the dangers of addiction. Victor Besa / The National

Abdulla Eissa, 17, attended the camp last year and was selected for the ambassador programme, where adolescents help spread awareness by visiting schools and speaking about the dangers of smoking and addiction.

“There are many schoolchildren who either smoke medwakh or pipe and I have tried to warn them that it may lead to addiction and is very harmful to their health,” he said.

While there are no recent studies on the number of schoolchildren who smoke, the a UAE University study on 1,186 Arab pupils in 2017, found that 8.5 per cent of 12 to 14 year olds are smokers. It also revealed a significant number of the respondents tried their first cigarette or shisha at age nine or younger.

“We don’t have clear data of the exact percentage of smoking among schoolchildren but there are indications that there is a problem, particularly with e-cigarettes and vaping use,” said Dr Fikri.

A 2015 NRC study among university students, aged 18 to 25, found that 15 per cent of them smoked.

“In comparison with the US where it is 13.5 per cent, according to Nida [National Institute on Drug Abuse], our percentage is concerning,” Dr Fikri Fekri said.

He said the NRC plans to carry out another study, to have a better idea of what current smoking rates are among adolescents, but have struggled to obtain the parental consent needed.

Updated: July 22, 2019 03:56 PM

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