Despite efforts of the Ministry of Health, Saudi Arabia remains a country where smoking cigarettes is prevalent. In 2006, Dr. Abdullah Al-Baddah, the Ministry’s anti-smoking chief, said that Saudis inhale 40,000 tons of tobacco smoke annually in 15 billion cigarettes. He pointed out that Saudi Arabia ranks 23rd in the world for the percentage of its population that smokes. This is in spite of a royal decree issued to ban smoking in all government institutions and buildings. The only time one will truly observe a noticeable absence of men smoking cigarettes is during the holy month of Ramadan. Why is it that many men can forsake from smoking during one month each year but once Ramadan has finished, return back to the smoking habit?
Anti-smoking clinics have been opened in various cities in the Kingdom as part of the Health Ministry’s efforts to encourage smokers to give up the bad habit. The ministry regularly organizes public programs that aim at creating awareness among Saudis and residents of the hazards smoking causes to a person’s health. In June 2009, Purity, a local Saudi charity, launched an innovative anti-smoking campaign. Due to the high costs associated with marriage, Purity initiated its program with the catchy incentive “Kicking the habit is on you, and marriage is on us,” meant to entice young grooms to give up smoking. Purity’s aim is to create a smoke-free family as one-third of Saudi school children live in homes with smokers, according to a 2007 health survey.
In spite of the initiatives to refrain from smoking in Saudi Arabia, one inevitably will smell the scent of cigarette smoke in restaurants as not all restaurants in Saudi will have smoking and non-smoking sections. It is also common to see men smoking while strolling within the malls or the more localized souks. Some office buildings and Ministries have no-smoking policies within the facilities but those who smoke will find their way. If a man has his own office, he’ll usually just close the door and enjoy a cigarette or gather somewhere with other colleagues who also enjoy smoking.
Even on the last Saudi Airlines flight that I flew from Riyadh to Washington, I smelled the scent of cigarette smoke emanating from the cockpit from my own seat in the upper deck of the aircraft. This is in spite of Saudi Airlines own ban of no smoking on its flights.
And I attended a Saudi sponsored function last month which was hosted at a five-star hotel in the USA. The city has a non-smoking ban inside of public places. So ironically there were a large group of Saudis and other Arabs gathered outside of the hotel rather than inside where the main reception was taking place so they could enjoy chatting and smoking their cigarettes.
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