Abu Dhabi, UAE: Almost 30 per cent of Emiratis in their thirties smoke and medwakh is the most popular way to do so, evidence from a health-screening programme in Abu Dhabi suggests.
The figure is higher than in the United States, where 20 per cent of people between 25 and 44 smoke, and the UK, where 24 per cent of people aged 25 to 34 are smokers.
New data from Abu Dhabi premarital screenings in 2015 also showed that nearly a quarter of couples were smokers, with cigarettes the most common form of tobacco consumption.
Experts say tobacco use is on the rise, fuelled by cheap cigarettes and high incomes.
“Cigarette costs are lower here than in many parts of the world, but not significantly lower,” said Dr Samah Ahmed, a pulmonology specialist at Burjeel Medical Centre in Shahama. “But people’s higher socio-economic status means it’s not unaffordable.”
“Tobacco use has been in the region for a long time,” Dr Ahmed said. “Statistics show that tobacco use is rising.”
According to the Tobacco Atlas, a compendium of research on tobacco use produced by the American Cancer Society and the World Lung Foundation, the cigarette market in the Eastern Mediterranean region increased by more than a third since 2000, the highest growth rate in the world.
Dr Ahmed said smoking was also a problem among teenagers.
“Most parents don’t know their children are smokers,” she said. “Parents have to be cautious, and notice. The teens say their parents don’t know they smoke as they do so outside the house.”
Dr Ahmed said children who did not smoke could be affected by adults who do in enclosed spaces. She treats about five children a month for asthma.
“Smoke inside the house triggers asthma in children,” she said. “There is a high rate of asthmatic children here.” She urged parents who smoked to use the harm it could cause to children as motivation to quit. “Get help from healthcare providers on overcoming craving symptoms,” she said.
“If you failed to quit earlier, you may succeed. We have nicotine replacement therapy. There is psychological support and medical treatment.”
The Health Authority Abu Dhabi, whose Weqaya screening programme revealed the number of smokers in their thirties, has also launched its annual tobacco control awareness campaign.
Smokers are urged to visit a tobacco cessation clinic at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City or the American Centre for Psychiatry & Neurology in the capital, Al Jahili Healthcare Centre or Oud Al Toba Primary Health Care Centre in Al Ain, or Al Dhafra Family Medicine Centre in Al Gharbia.
The authority is “intensifying its efforts to highlight tobacco addiction and methods of recovery to achieve its vision for a healthier Abu Dhabi”, said Dr Omniyat Al Hajeri, its director of public health and research.
“We encourage all smokers to persist with their efforts to give up all forms of tobacco use – no matter the number of attempts it takes to successfully quit – by taking advantage of the treatment and support services available to them through tobacco cessation clinics.
“Most smokers who are aware of the dangers of tobacco use have a desire to quit, and seeking medical guidance can double a smoker’s chances of quitting successfully.”
© The NationalJun 2016