Dubai: The incidence of smoking among youngsters, including those younger than 10, has compelled the UAE Ministry of Health (MOH) to launch a nationwide anti-tobacco campaign.
The three-year ‘Too smart to start’ campaign, under the Ministry’s Health Education and Promotion Department, was launched on Thursday in the presence of Shaikh Majid Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Chairman of Dubai Culture and Arts Authority, and Abdul Rahman Mohammad Al Owais, Minister of Health.
The campaign, aimed at the 10-18 age group, is being implemented through the website (http://athkauae.ae) and through interactive awareness talks and workshops in schools.
According to the ministry, the current percentage of students who smoke in the UAE is 14.3 and 2.9 among males and females respectively, with one-third of students reporting that they started smoking before the age of 10.
Figures provided by the Ministry also reveal that two-thirds of young smokers don’t think tobacco consumption is injurious to health with one-third of young smokers believing that smoking makes them more sociable and attractive to friends.
In response to these alarming statistics, the ministry decided to launch a national campaign that has a three-fold goal. These are to raise awareness about the dangers of smoking, altering the behaviour associated with smoking, equipping students with skills and knowledge on how to protect themselves from the habit, and creating a school environment that supports anti-tobacco efforts.
The ministry also hopes to spread the message that support services are available to those who want to quit.
The campaign website will provide a portal to connect students with up-to-date knowledge, and encourage them to seek and share anti-tobacco advice through contests, said Dr Fadeela Al Shareef, director of health education and promotion at the ministry.
Speaking to Gulf News, she said, “The ministry wanted a positive campaign, starting with the name. We don’t want to say ‘no smoking’ or ‘say no to tobacco’. Instead, we chose positive reinforcement — kids are too smart to start smoking. Children are rebellious and tend to do what they are asked not to do. So our campaign tells them they are smart, they know the dangers, and they know what to do when influenced by friends.”
Dr Fadeela said the ministry’s surveys show that students were taking up smoking before the age of 10. “We need to teach them how not to give in to peer pressure. The campaign’s awareness lectures at schools, starting with government, will equip children with the knowledge,” she said.
Speaking on the benefits of educating the young on the dangers of tobacco, Dr Mahmoud Fikri, assistant undersecretary for health policies at the ministry told Gulf News that addressing the formative years of a child’s life is most important.
“During the vulnerable ages of 10-18, values and habits are being formed. Children should believe — and be convinced — that smoking is injurious. At the ministry, we want to focus on prevention rather than cessation. The best anti-tobacco message is prevention — not to start smoking; investments towards this should start at a young age,” he said.