Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat- An important debate has arisen between the ministry of health and associations for combating smoking concerning the methods to promote anti-smoking awareness in the kingdom. Saudi society is torn between the awareness and advertising campaigns for tobacco in various forms that target the general public.
Jabir al Aseery, the public relations director of the charity for spreading awareness on the dangers of smoking and using drugs, believes that the dangers of smoking, alcohol and drugs are equal. However, director of the health department in Mecca, Dr. Yasser al Ghamdi believes that associating smoking with drug addiction to spread awareness and combat smoking is incorrect. Al Aseery affirmed the link between drug abuse and smoking, saying, “The production, marketing and consumption of tobacco are much more dangerous than narcotics. Ten percent of people who drink alcohol become alcohol abusers after some time, whereas ninety percent of smokers become drug addicts. Smoking is what causes many crimes such as adultery, theft and murder.”
On the other hand, Dr. al Ghamdi rejects this link as he says, “the connection between smoking and drug addiction is incorrect and somewhat an exaggeration. Smoking is wrong and harmful; however, drug abuse is a disease that should be combated. Furthermore, giving incorrect information and linking it to religious ruling to scare people and deter them from acting in a certain way is not right. Muslim scholars have differed in their views on smoking, unlike the use of drugs, which all scholars agree is religiously prohibited.”
Despite the various efforts exerted by educational institutions, national campaigns and associations to combat smoking, interaction with society to increase awareness against smoking is still weak.
A report by the World Health Organization (WHO) showed that Saudi Arabia is the 23rd biggest tobacco consumer on the continental and regional levels and the fourth biggest importer of tobacco worldwide. A survey conducted on 758 students from seven different schools in Jeddah had shown that the numbers of smokers amongst the students made up 23% and that out of 138 female students, 28 are smokers. Dr. al Ghamdi commented on these figures, “Unfortunately, our efforts in increasing awareness are yet to reach their goal of eliminating smoking. Yet these efforts must be combined with cooperation with society to limit the consumption of tobacco through programs that increase awareness as well as administrative procedures to protect non-smokers. This is in addition to different measures to raise the price of tobacco and the implementation of penalties for people who violate the laws that prohibit smoking in governmental establishments, ministries and public places.” The marketing costs for one tobacco company are estimated at 4.3 million dollars, whereas the number of smokers in Saudi Arabia is estimated at 6 million who smoke over the equivalent of 33 million Saudi Riyals of tobacco per day. Awareness campaigns that had labeled smoking as the first step towards committing crimes have angered smokers and caused them to be uncooperative with these campaigns.