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Students in Saudi Arabia hang cigarette pack in anti-smoking drama

Act wades into controversy as gallows seen as “unfit” for campus

Gulf News

Manama: Students at a Saudi university sought to take some of the allure out of smoking by hanging a pack of cigarettes on campus.

However, their idea waded into controversy after people complained that the gallows was a terrible sight at the university even if the students’ intention to “uncool” smoking was laudable.

Sources at the university in Eastern Saudi Arabia said that the Drama Club in their anti-smoking drive, disguised themselves as cleaners and in a dramatic show set up the gallows then read out a short text against smoking followed by the execution verdict against a pack of cigarettes, local Arabic daily Al Watan reported on Tuesday.

Then, they quickly set up the gallows and hanged a dummy wearing a pack of cigarettes amid anti-smoking shouts.

However, online commentators did not seem to have appreciated the idea.

“I am not a smoker and I hate the smell of cigarettes, but the idea of a gallows on campus is frightening and does not indicate a positive mindset,” the Earth’s Son posted. “The gallows reminds me of Taliban and their ideology. I have always considered universities were immune to this kind of mentality,” he said.

Al Yami wrote that the act, despite its good intentions, indicated that for some people, lives did not have a real significance.

According to official figures, Saudi Arabia is home to six million smokers, including around 800,000 teenagers, mainly intermediate and high school students, and 600,000 women.

However, expatriates also account for a significant proportion of cigarette consumption in Saudi Arabia despite the increase in campaigns about health concerns, the adoption of several legislative restrictions and new views on the effects of passive smoking.

Saudi Arabia has recently warned restaurants and cafés in residential areas that they would face stringent action if they failed to comply with the law banning serving shisha.

Smoking at all ministries, government institutions and public places was banned under a royal decree.

The ban on cigarettes and shisha is extended to all closed places, including coffee shops, restaurants, shopping malls and crowded areas.

Raids have been regularly launched to ensure that the ban on smoking in public areas is fully implemented.

A Saudi topflight football team in August imposed heavy financial penalties on a group of players caught smoking shisha in a coffee shop in Abu Dhabi, where the squad was taking part in a friendly tournament.

A Saudi judge in summer ruled that women who suffered as a result of their husbands’ smoking were allowed to file divorce cases against them and in October, Saudi judges set a new trend in the country by using cigarette smoking as a factor in child custody cases.

“A parent could now lose the custody case if he or she is proven to be a smoker,” a legal official said.

“Under the emerging trend, the smoking factor is now being treated like the drinking factor and can decide the outcome of the custody case,” the expert said

The court would favour non-smoking parents and would factor smoking into custody cases to protect the child from the negative impact of passive smoking, he said.