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Dangerous rise in teen smoking


DUBAI - Cigarette-smoking among youngsters is a dangerous trend, one that is causing a great deal of alarm among policy-makers, health-care providers and families worldwide.

Most smokers are starting early - and also dying early. Time is indeed running out because if current statistics are to be taken seriously, more than 250 million children alive today in different countries will die in the future due to tobacco use. It is one of the most urgent social perils facing all countries in the region, including the Gulf States where the prevalence of smoking among the young has already reached 21.9 per cent. In the UAE, 14.3 per cent of young males, 24 per cent of the adult males, 2.9 per cent of the young females and one per cent of adult females are cigarette smokers, and due to their continuous exposure to smoking at home and in public places, their numbers are expected to increase systematically in the future. Despite anti-smoking clinics being set up in different emirates, the number of young children taking up smoking is on the rise. Says Dubai-based social counsellor and psychologist Dr Roghy Mcarthy: "Children as young as 12 are taking up smoking and it is either due to peer pressure or negligence at home. Many a times we find that children say that they find smoking 'cool.' What they mean is that they are accepted more in their peer group if they smoke." Sometimes the children themselves might not even like the smell of tobacco but they pretend to like it in order to be accepted in their group of friends who are already into the habit, Dr Mcarthy explains. "If a girl or a boy at 20 smokes, it is not shocking, but if a 12-year-old smokes, he /she breaks a behaviour boundary." Smoking not only affects health but could also lead to immoral behaviour, especially among youngsters, points out another doctor and adviser to the Sharjah-based Arab Family Organisation. "This often drives them to immoral acts, as they smoke behind their parents' back. And because their pocket money might not suffice to buy a cigarette pack they could resort to stealing," she added. "It is a Catch-22 situation where children find themselves lying to their parents and live in the dread of being discovered smoking. This is also more common among children who have a lack of family support or those who come from broken homes, Dr McCarthy said. A family of smokers also encourages their younger ones to take up the habit early. They smoke when neither their lungs, nor their brain is fully mature, causing irreversible damage. Parents should encourage children to have different extra-curricular activities like music, sports etc. Also they should give rewards to their children that will act as a reward for not smoking. The Sharjah Medical District has put in a great deal of effort to curb the menace of smoking in accordance with the instructions of the UAE Ministry of Health. The Smoking Cessation Unit in Sharjah has helped 500 smokers to quit the habit since its launch. Shaikh Mohammed bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Assistant Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Health and Director of the Sharjah Medical District, said that everyone knows what comes from smoking, among the most calamitous is lung cancer, not to mention hypertension, heart disease and birth defects. "Our efforts at the Sharjah medical district culminated in the establishment of the Smoking Cessation Unit which takes great effort to limit the spread of this deadly habit, in addition to the efforts of the Health Education and Awareness Section. "Combating smoking is a shared responsibility, one in which government departments, social organisations, families, parents and clerics share, thus we must all join hands to put an end to this dangerous habit and raising the slogan "No to Smoking," Shaikh Mohammed bin Saqr said. Dr Ibrahim Jaber, in charge of the Smoking Cessation Clinic at the Sharjah Medical District, said that tobacco use is considered one of the leading causes of death that can be prevented in the world. He cited the World Health Organisation (WHO) report, which said that four million deaths each year are the direct result of tobacco use. In fact it is anticipated that this figure reach 4.8 million by the year 2020, 70 per cent of which will be from the developing world. "Starting to smoke early increases the chances of death as a result of succumbing to one of the diseases related to smoking. Half of the life-long smokers will die, half of those at a young age, since smoking is one of the major causes of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, artherosclerosis and respiratory diseases," Dr. Jaber said. The Smoking Cessation Unit's programme includes spreading health awareness through lectures at schools, universities, clubs and establishments, holding workshops and holding free tests at shopping malls for members of the public, in addition to helping smokers, who wish to stop, to stub out their last cigarette. The Dubai Municipality is working on the technical guidelines or executive regulations to prohibit the sale of tobacco to people under 21 in line with the local order No. 11, 2003 issued by Shaikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai, UAE's Minister of Finance and Industry and Chairman of Dubai Municipality. One of the prominent programmes in the field of health awareness is the no-smoking campaign, which includes the issuing of legislation to regulate the tobacco trade. A special committee has been formed for this purpose and it has already prepared an anti-smoking draft law, which will be submitted to the competent authorities for approval. A key element of the campaign is the establishment of quit smoking units at the departments of preventive medicine in each of the nine medical districts throughout the country. The aim is to reduce the prevalence of smoking and associated illness and death and to encourage people to adopt a healthier lifestyle as well as to support smoke-free policies. Recently an anti-smoking drive termed "Youth against Tobacco" was launched. Patronised by Her Highness Shaikha Fatima bint Mubarak, Wife of the President and Chairperson of the UAE Women’s Federation, the campaign is part of a nationwide anti-smoking espoused by the federation in association with the Ministry of Health and many social authorities in the country with the aim of reducing the number of smokers among children and adolescents. At the launch, Health Minister Hamad Al Midfaa said the objective of the "Youth Against Tobacco" campaign was to enhance the skills and capabilities of the country's youth and enable them play an active role in fighting off smoking. Midfaa thanked Shaikha Fatima for her humanitarian gesture and keenness to realise a bright tomorrow for today's children. Noora Al Suweidi, Director, UAE Women's Federation, said in a statement that the drive was part of the endeavour of the federation under the directives of Shaikha Fatima, who had instructed in 2000 to strive to ward off the smoking phenomenon. A "Youth against Tobacco" conference will be held between May 3 and 4 and special training programmes and contests will be organised in collaboration with various ministries, social authorities and charity organisations.

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