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Cairo: Saudi Arabia is considering a move to restrict availability of tobacco products and raise the legal age for smokers to 21 years, an official has said.

“Work is under way on a project banning sale of tobacco products at grocery stores and supermarkets,” added Dr Mansour Al Qahtani, the secretary general of the Saudi National Committee for Tobacco Control.

He said that the committee is working with the Health Ministry on implementing a related strategy set by the World Health Or-ganisation including raising the legal age for having access to tobacco products and cafes from 18 years to 21.

“We are working to raise this age to 21 years soon,” he said.

“Legalising sale of tobacco products at some stores will make them not easily accessible as they are today at all grocery stores and supermarkets,” Dr Al Qahtani told Saudi TV Al Ekhbariya.

He added that the moves would help identify customers of to-bacco products and set up a database on them.

The number of smokers in Saudi Arabia, a country of around 35 million people, is believed to be over 5 million.

In 2005, the kingdom ratified the WHO Framework Convention for Tobacco Control.