Dubai: Words like ‘lights' on a cigarette packet virtually amount to a fraud as these products deliver the same amount of toxins as regular cigarettes, a doctor said.
He said the UAE ban on such enticing words on cigarette packets is a step forward but said ultimately only higher tobacco prices would deter smoking.
Dr Saul Shiffman, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, US, said studies have shown that when prices go up, smoking goes down. "It also [works as a] wake-up call to smokers who wish to quit," he said.
The UAE announced recently that cigarette packets will have graphic images and words like ‘silky', ‘smooth' and ‘lights' will not be printed on the packs. The measures follow an international treaty signed by the UAE which makes it obligatory to protect its people from the dangers of smoking.
He said laws to protect people increase the chances of people trying to quit. "It's like giving them a helping hand."
The doctor quoted a study which shows that more than 25.5 per cent of the UAE's male population smokes. The highest percentage of male smokers in the region is in Yemen (77 per cent) followed by Qatar (37 per cent).
Dr Shiffman was in the UAE recently to encourage doctors to speak to their patients about the dangers of smoking. "Some doctors find it awkward to talk to their patients as they feel it is a personal choice. "But it is obligatory for them to tell patients smoking is life-threatening," he said.
He said people know that smoking is bad for health and have plans to quit eventually, but are often not aware that the risk of dying is high if they do not quit. "Encouragement and information is not enough," said Dr Shiffman. Sometimes people need medication, as lozenges which release nicotine into the bloodstream, he said.
He said a doctor should also set up specific plans for smokers highlighting ways of quitting the habit and also work to a specific timeframe.
Observing that some people can quit smoking on their own, Dr Shiffman said, "More power to them," but noted that countless others have tried and failed many times.
The idea of prescribing a lozenge is to replace the craving for nicotine, he said. "It makes [quitting process] less unpleasant and therefore more likely to succeed."
Dr Shiffman said nicotine is not harmful, but rather it is the smoke and carcinogens released by burning paper that are dangerous. He said the other misconception is that smoking shisha is safer. "You smoke longer, about one hour or two, as compared to a cigarette smoked for ten minutes," he said.
He said that tobacco use should be treated as a disease and should be covered by insurance for those who wish to quit. "In the UK, people are not only offered counselling but are also given medication as nicotine gums at subsidised rates," he pointed out.
Dr Shiffman said family support should be positive failing which the smoker will end up smoking more.
Speaking about ‘Big Tobacco', he said the industry produces more money than oil. "We are winning, but winning slowly," he said, about the fight against the sector. "It is outrageous the tobacco companies are now exploiting the East," he said, as fewer people are smoking and dying in the West," he said.