Dubai: UAE on Monday released a "Dubai Declaration" in its fight to control tobacco use and called for a total ban on smoking in public places with no allowance for smoking rooms.
Senior health officials warned that girls as young as six are becoming smokers in the region and called for wide-reaching measures as doubling the price of tobacco to reduce temptation among the young population.
Dr Hanif Hassan, Minister of Health, released the Declaration at the Dubai Women's Association, to highlight the concern that tobacco firms are targeting women.
He said there are 1.3 billion smokers worldwide today and that tobacco use in its many forms kills five million people every year. Yesterday was World Anti-Tobacco Day and petrol stations across the country stopped selling cigarettes for the day.
The declaration calls for 50 per cent of cigarette packs to be covered with health warnings and graphics.
A senior GCC official said the graphics will take into consideration local sensibilities and not feature scantily-dressed women. There is also consensus to double the price of tobacco.
Draft laws of the Federal National Anti-Tobacco Laws had been finalised recently with the assistance of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and will be submitted to the Cabinet for approval.
There is also a move to provide streaming warnings in Arab TV soaps whenever a character on screen starts smoking. The warnings will say that smoking is harmful to health.
"It's either them (tobacco companies) or us," Hussain Abdul Razzaq Al Jazeri, WHO Regional Director, said citing the worrying figures of the number of smokers growing every year. He said when people have to pay more for cigarettes, the number of smokers drop.
Conflict: Delay in tax increase
A senior GCC health official said conflict between various departments is holding back the massive tax increase health ministers are seeking on tobacco products. The six nations are looking at doubling the cost of cigarettes but are being held back due to "stiff opposition" from various "sectors", Dr Tawfiq Khoja, executive board member of the health ministers' council, told Gulf News. He said a resolution to raise the price had been adopted in 2003 and so far nothing has happened. "We have been trying since the past 15 years (to raise prices)," he said.
Should smoking be banned everywhere? Or should people be free to smoke wherever they want?