Dubai Today the call to action for ‘World No Tobacco Day' is not just for the common smoker to give up smoking. The World Health Organisation (WHO) aims to nip the problem of smoking in the bud by highlighting the tobacco industry's "brazen and increasingly aggressive attempts to counteract global tobacco control efforts."
Every year on May 31, countries worldwide which are signatories to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) work together to raise public awareness of the risks of tobacco use and what can be done to fight this epidemic that claims one life every six seconds.
The UAE, which ratified the FCTC in 2005, is not immune to this pressure from the tobacco industry. The mere delay in the passing of the bylaws or implementing regulations for the anti-tobacco federal law is testament to this, Dr Wedad Al Maidoor, Head of the National Tobacco Control Committee, Ministry of Health, told Gulf News.
"Tobacco companies have been lobbying, although not directly, against government smoking cessation efforts such as putting the graphic warning into the cigarette packets. It is also one of the reasons why the law was passed late and why the implementing regulations are taking time to be passed," Dr Al Maidoor said.
In 2010, President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan approved Federal Anti-Tobacco Law No 15. But the implementing regulations detailing government measures on curbing smoking are yet to be approved by the Cabinet.
The lack of implementing regulations has affected government agencies' efforts to enforce greater restrictions on smoking.
"The target is that all public places should be smoke-free. We are now roughly 60 per cent smoke-free. But in two or three years' time we will aim to remove all the smoking rooms to achieve 100 per cent smoke-free places," Dr Al Maidoor said.
"The UAE has made really positive steps, a number of initiatives that are part of the FCTC framework. But there is not yet a comprehensive ban on smoking in bars and restaurants. These partial smoking bans don't really work because they give a lot of room to manoeuvre and get a way out," Gijs Sanders, an official from GlaxoSmithKline, the pharmaceutical company that works closely with health authorities on curbing smoking, said.
"Restrictions on smoking in public places should be more strictly imposed and there should be hefty fines on those who break these laws.
"Increasing the tariffs could be one suggestion but authorities would need to look into the pros and cons of this rule," Dr Azad Moopen, Chairman DM Healthcare, Gulf News' partner for the Stub It! Campaign, said.
Studies show that making smoking more expensive is an effective measure in curbing smoking. In the UAE, this proposal is still in its final stage of discussion. Graphic warnings on the cigarette packets, however, will finally be implemented in August.
World no tobacco day: Sales banned for a day
All tobacco products are banned from being sold in the entire emirate of Dubai today in observance of World No Tobacco Day, a senior official at the Dubai Municipality said.
The World No Tobacco Day is observed every May 31 to raise awareness of the lethal effects of tobacco and to encourage the public to abstain from all forms of tobacco consumption for 24 hours.
"The move is aimed at spreading awareness about the dangers of cigarette smoking to make people think about the dangers of tobacco consumption, as it kills millions of people and affects the public health," Redha Salman said.
The volunteer participants include major business establishments such as Hyper Panda, Safeer Group, News Centre, Cadolle, Spinneys, Carrefour, Choithram, Lulu, Maya, Family, West Zone and J-Mart.
In the UAE, one in four deaths is linked to smoking-related diseases according to Gregory F. Schaffer, Chief Executive Officer of Tawam Hospital, a leading medical facility in the country. He said these deaths are directly linked to smoking according to the World Council on Tobacco and Health.
Data from the Ministry of Health in 2003 said that around 18-28 per cent of adults smoke cigarettes but the percentage is higher among young people which is about 30 per cent. Dr Wedad Al Maidoor, Head of the National Tobacco Control Committee, Ministry of Health, said that the number of young smokers is increasing.
Various awareness campaigns about the perils of smoking will be held in Dubai and in the capital. Health Authority Abu Dhabi will reach out to people in the emirate over the next few weeks. The Dubai Health Authority has partnered with various organisations to set up awareness booths at the Mall of the Emirates and Dubai Mall.