Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Holy cities to be tobacco-free

As Haj pilgrims flock to the Kingdom from across the world, the Ministry of Health has intensified its campaign to make Makkah and Madinah completely tobacco-free.

“We require the cooperation of pilgrims to make the two holy cities among those with the lowest tobacco consumption in the world,” said Dr. Sameer Al-Sabban, executive director of the Anti-Smoking Campaign in Makkah, adding that the program has been intensified this year.

The sale of tobacco is strictly banned in the five-km radiuses of the Grand Mosque and Holy Mosque in Makkah and Madinah. Billboards and posters with anti-smoking messages, information regarding anti-smoking clinics and fatwas on the subject are on display in the two cities. Buses carrying pilgrims have anti-smoking posters on them, and folders containing pamphlets, flyers, postcards and stickers will also be handed to pilgrims at the Jamrat during Haj.

“A team of scouts and health officials have taken positions at the Grand Mosque in Makkah to raise awareness about the health risks caused by this ugly habit,” said Al-Sabban.

“It’s a pity that smokers gather at the back side of the Grand Mosque to smoke which is hazardous to the entire environment of the holy city. These Saudi youths look for smokers within the holy city and politely give them Miswaks and booklets full of illustrations which can be understood by all people,” he said.

To assist pilgrims, the ministry has set up six anti-smoking clinics in the holy city as part of the campaign. The clinics are open to male and female smokers and services are offered free-of charge.

Makkah is the ideal place to quit smoking, said Al-Sabban, adding that one million of the five million people who die of smoking every year across the world are Muslim. “This is mainly because of their extravagant lifestyles and lack of knowledge of the hazards of smoking,” he said, adding that smokers not only harm themselves but also other people who come near them through passive smoking.

Haj is an ideal opportunity for smokers to quit and those who realize the ill effects of smoking will discontinue for their own sake, he said. A group of Saudi physicians and psychiatrists is helping the anti-smoking campaign, while a host of well-known websites are assisting with the campaign’s promotion.

It is estimated that in the Kingdom 35 to 40 percent of people above the age of 15 smoke. Around 24 percent of male students between the ages of 13 to 15 years smoke, while eight percent of female students smoke. The Kingdom joined the anti-tobacco agreement in May 2005. Saudi Arabia ranks fourth among world countries in tobacco imports and consumption. More than 15 billion cigarettes, worth $168 million, are smoked by Saudis each year, according to figures issued by the Gulf Cooperation Council’s Health Ministers Council.ARAB NEWS

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