Smoke fills conversation vacuum, says minister

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Smoke fills conversation vacuum, says minister

Shaikh Nahyan welcomes delegates of the 16th World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Abu Dhabi.

By Silvia Radan/staff Reporter

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Published: Thu 19 Mar 2015, 2:04 AM

Last updated: Thu 25 Jun 2015, 10:34 PM

Abu Dhabi - The youth are picking up cigarettes and shishas due to the lost art of conversation, according to Shaikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development. “We should find other means of conversation than (just) burning tobacco together,” he stressed, as he welcomed the delegates of the 16th World Conference on Tobacco or Health (WCTOH). Taking place for the first time in Abu Dhabi from March 17-21, the conference opened on Tuesday.

“Abu Dhabi is delighted to provide you with a smoke-free room,” he said, welcoming the several hundred national and international delegates present at the late night opening ceremony. “I see many smoke-free coffee shops as well, full of people sitting in silence with their mobile phones. That concerns me. Maybe many people turn to cigarettes and shisha ... (due to) ... lack of conversational skills.”

Nearly 30 per cent of the UAE’s adult population consumes tobacco in some form. Cigarettes come first on the list, followed by medhwak, the traditional Emirati pipe, and shisha.

In the past five years, the country has intensified efforts to curb down tobacco use, with smoking banned in most public places and government offices in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah.

Sharjah Ruler honoured

The most aggressive anti-smoking measures were implemented by Sharjah, where selling cigarettes is banned in groceries and small supermarkets. Sharjah also banned the use of water pipes, and smoking in government buildings.

For these reasons, the World Health Organisation (WHO) honoured His Highness Dr Shaikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, at the WHO World No Tobacco Day Award during the conference’s opening ceremony.

Cancer risk

About 10 forms of cancer and heart diseases are among the diseases caused by tobacco. According to Dr Ala Alwan, regional director of the WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office, 82 per cent of deaths worldwide occur because of tobacco, and most of them happen in low and medium income countries, where cigarettes are sold cheaply and people cannot afford medical care.

“Out of 38 million smoking-related deaths in 2012, in low and medium income countries, 16 million were premature or avoidable,” stressed Dr Alwan. “Governments must implement a total ban on tobacco advertising and raise taxes on tobacco, the most effective tool to control smoking.”

Australia and Ireland — the UK soon — have gone a step further, and introduced blank packaging for cigarettes, so that consumers don’t know the brand of cigarettes they are buying.

Still, tobacco companies are fiercely fighting bans, laws and restrictions, and constantly looking for new markets.

“Tobacco companies spend $1 million per hour in advertising their products,” pointed out Vice-Admiral Vivek Murthy, US surgeon-general. Most government and health organisations would find it difficult to match that, he said.

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