Prohibition on smoking |
Arab News - 03 August, 2012
It was inevitable that the smoking ban that has come to the Kingdom was going to upset some people. For others, the prohibition on smoking in government buildings and other public places has been long overdue.
Leaving aside for a moment the impact on the health of smokers and those who are obliged to breathe in the fog they create, there is probably no more unpleasant smell than that of stale cigarette smoke. Non-smokers who visited smoke-filled coffee shops and restaurants, could hardly fail to come away with their clothes stinking of rancid smoke.
The health consequences of smoking are of course, far more serious. Not every smoker dies of lung disease or mouth of throat cancers. Indeed, every hardened smoker is likely to tell anyone who will listen of a relative or friend who smoked heavily all his life, who lived to a great age and died in his bed. But the reality is that sucking smoke into the body on a daily basis, generally produces a range of physiological effects which will very likely shorten life spans and damage the quality of the remaining years left to a smoker.
That means that in the end, most smokers not only impose a burden on the relatives who must care for them in their final illness, but also a financial cost on the health service, which must allocate resources to treat, what is effectively, self-inflicted harm.
The real target for the ban brought in by Interior Minister Prince Ahmed is not however cost savings in the Kingdoms hospitals and clinics, but the future health and happiness of our young people. For well over a century, the first cigarette (which nearly everyone remembers) had been part of a right of passage into adulthood. When the harm tobacco could cause was only dimly appreciated, no one objected to seeing a young man with a cigarette between his lips.
In the modern world, now that the risks are very well understood, the sight of youths puffing away on cigarettes is, at the very least, saddening and depressing. This is the more so, because smoking is no longer these days still a step toward manhood. Rather it is an assertion of youthful rebellion, underpinned by the peer group pressures from those who think it smart or fashionable and somehow cool to puff away self-consciously on a cigarette.
Such public displays should by now be a thing of the past. However, as has happened with selective bans in the past, for instance in parts of airports, which were widely ignored by passengers, it seems clear that it is going to take time for people to start obeying the rules. However, once smokers start being punished for flouting the law, the incidence of public tobacco consumption will almost certainly drop off sharply.
Meanwhile, a total ban of cigarette sales in Eastern Province is reportedly being widely ignored by stores. The authorities plan to clamp down on offenders after Ramadan. They will also no doubt be putting in place plans to combat the inevitable illegal trade in tobacco that will spring up from the ban.
It is difficult not to sympathize with smokers who feel themselves addicted to nicotine and will find it hard not to be smoking most of the time. It will be a real challenge for them to sit through a day at work without a cigarette. But there are a whole load of resources out there to help wean people off their desire for a regular lungful of nicotine. It is a smoker’s duty to obey the law, just as every smoker should be given all the support necessary to help them kick the smoking habit.
Perhaps the greatest impact of the ban is that it includes shisha, whose smoke is every bit as unhealthy as that from cigarettes. With the passing of this historic element of a great Arab social tradition, coffee shops will never look the same again, although they will certainly smell a whole lot better.
Whatever the current protests and complaints, in years to come, Saudis, especially young Saudis, will face a far healthier and fitter future. No change, especially one as radical as the smoking ban, is ever easy. Nevertheless, Saudis as yet unborn, will have cause to be grateful for the Kingdom’s smoking ban.