Abu Dhabi: According to health experts who gathered in the capital on Tuesday, tobacco use is growing in the country as younger individuals continue to adopt other forms of tobacco such as shisha (waterpipes) and midwakh (pipe tobacco).
Hard numbers on the trend among younger adults are not available but estimates suggest that nearly 25 to 30 per cent of the UAE’s adult population already smoke some form of tobacco.
The entire Middle East and North Africa region is also seeing an increase in tobacco use, even though the proportion of users in Western nations is on the decline.
Health-care experts called for concerted measures to reduce the global threat, which kills one in every six people now and is projected to kill eight million people by 2030 if no action is taken.
“At the World Health Assembly in 2013, many countries signed on to reduce tobacco smoking from 22 per cent of the adult population in 2010 to 15 per cent by 2025. However, a recent study undertaken by the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that only 37 countries will be able to reach their targets with the measures they have implemented,” said Edouardo d’Espaignet, coordinator at the WHO Department of Tobacco Control.
“Not enough is being done to combat tobacco use, especially as forms of tobacco other than cigarettes become popular,” he added.
He was speaking at a press conference held in the capital on Tuesday to mark the opening of the 16th World Conference on Tobacco Or Health (WCTOH). The five-day forum will see hundreds of experts from across the world discuss challenges in reducing and limiting tobacco use.
“Unfortunately, the prevalence of tobacco use in the Arab world has reached shocking statistics and we can no longer wait to fight it,” said Princess Dina Mired of Jordan, director-general of the King Hussain Cancer Foundation.
“Globally, tobacco use accounts for at least 30 per cent of all cancer deaths, and 87 per cent of all lung cancer deaths in men,” she added.
Experts stressed the challenges posed by the powerful tobacco industry, which includes actions to sue governments for implementing plain packaging and other initiatives to limit tobacco advertising. Added to this is the addictive nature of tobacco itself, and the fact that in many countries, the use of shisha is considered a family activity without an understanding of its harmful nature.
“A third of our Jordanian adult population uses tobacco in one form or another. And even though many smoke shisha, they don’t understand that a single waterpipe session that lasts about an hour is similar to smoking 20 to 30 cigarettes at one go,” Mired said.
However, certain nations have shown notable progress. For example, the United States has seen the percentage of adult smokers fall from 43 per cent in 1964 to 18 per cent in 2014.
Dr Farida Al Hosani, acting director of public health at the Health Authority Abu Dhabi, told Gulf News that a slight decline in smoking had also been noted in the emirate of Abu Dhabi.
“We do not have the statistics yet, but it is the enforcement of the Federal Law No 15 of 2009 on Tobacco Control and its by-laws that have brought about this change,” she said.
“For example, a by-law that banned smoking in public places like hotels, restaurants and coffee shops saw about 80 cafes shut down in 2013. Malls and hotel lobbies are now smoke-free and family-friendly,” she said.
The official also urged universities and researchers to study the impacts of smoking shisha and midwakh to shed more light on the subject.