Manama: Saudi Arabia’s health authorities spend more than 10 million Saudi riyals (Dh9.79 million) to treat millions of smokers annually, a local expert has said.
“The number of men and women who smoke in the country is more than nine million, mainly between the ages of 17 and 40,” Ali Zaeri, a psychology expert, said.
“The latest problem is the emergence of young girls who smoke shishas,” he told local Arabic daily Al Watan.
The Red Sea city of Jeddah tops the list of areas where young people smoke cigarettes and shishas, he said.
The expert said that several stores broke the law by selling cigarettes to children under the age of ten.
In 2010, a health official said that the number of smokers in Saudi Arabia reached six million, including 600,000 women and 772,000 teenagers. Expatriates also account for a significant proportion of cigarette consumption in the kingdom despite the increase in campaigns about health concerns, the adoption of several legislative restrictions and new views on the effects of passive smoking.
The official reportedly said that the majority of smokers wanted to quit and were in “desperate need of aid and of medical support.”
According to Zaeri, smoking costs Saudi Arabia around 16 billion riyals ($4.266 billion) a year.
“There is a mafia for pushing cigarettes to people in Saudi Arabia and its members use all means to promote tobacco products and hamper research on the damage caused by smo ng,” he said.
Zaeri is scheduled to take part in a forum on tobacco this week in Jeddah.
Organisers said that the meeting would highlight the physical, psychological, social, economic and environmental problems related to smoking.
It will also review efforts to combat the consumption of tobacco and will issue recommendations to decision makers, Osama Bin Ahmad Al Ebrahim, the head of the organising committee, told the Saudi daily.
Officials in Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s leading consumers of cigarettes, have often stressed a ban on smoking in public places.
“Since we are a Muslim country, we must be an example for other countries in applying the rules of Islam that call for preserving people’s money and interests and public healthcare,” Prince Ahmad Bin Abdul Aziz, the interior minister, said in July. “We must stress that smoking is banned in all closed places, including coffee shops, restaurants, shopping malls and crowded areas. The ban extends to cigarettes and to shishas.”
In July, a Saudi judge ruled that a woman who suffered from her husband’s smoking was allowed to file cases against him.
“Legal rules applied in such cases could reach the stage of divorce,” Appeals Judge Ebrahim Khodairi told Al Watan.
The judge said that if a woman found out that her husband was a smoker and that she had an allergy or any health issue resulting from his smoking, the marriage could be annulled.