More people in Qatar are taking up smoking, according to new government figures that show the habit is becoming more popular among adults and teenagers alike.
Some 12 percent of the country’s adult population (ages 15 years and up) admitted to currently smoking tobacco, up from 10 percent the previous year, according to the latest Global Adult Tobacco Study (GATS).
The numbers are the result of an international World Health Organization initiative.
According to another such project – the Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS) – nearly 10 percent of 13 t0 15-year-olds in Qatar are also smoking cigarettes – up from 6.5 percent in 2007, local media reports say.
Smoking appears to have become particularly popular among girls in Qatar. While in 2007, some 2.3 percent of girls ages 13 to 15 years old said they smoked cigarettes, the latest figures show this has risen to 4.7 percent, Gulf Times reports.
For boys of the same age, the number of cigarette smokers increased by 1.5 percentage points, up from 13.4 percent in 2007 to 14.9 percent last year.
To arrive at the results, the Supreme Council of Health (SCH) and Supreme Education Council (SEC) surveyed a total of 2,109 pupils from years 7 to 9, 1,716 of them ages 13 to 15 years old, with the results feeding into the GYTS.
These international surveys monitor the tobacco use of young people, as well as teens’ attitudes toward smoking and how they are influenced by their surrounding environment, including peers, family and media.
Using real figures, the surveys aim to help governments cut smoking rates and tackle the most influential factors in individual countries.
The survey of randomly selected adults from 8,398 households across Qatar found that just over one-fifth of all men in Qatar smoke (20.2 percent), compared to just 3.1 percent of women.
Meanwhile, nearly 3.4 percent of adults said they were current shisha smokers – 4.9 percent of men, and 1.6 percent of women.
These numbers appear to be the first available figures on shisha smoking in Qatar.
Notably, in a reflection of local cultural practices, the favored locations for shisha smoking differed for men and women.
While 85 percent of male shisha smokers chose to partake in a cafe, two-thirds of the women said they usually smoked at home.
Last month, top medical officials from across the Gulf gathered in Doha to discuss shisha smoking, which is a popular pastime in Qatar. Many of them called for increased regulations, including outlawing smoking in public places.
There have been some attempts to regulate shisha use in restaurants, although without much success.
Last year, restaurants in Souq Waqif were told to set aside half of their outdoor tables for non-shisha smokers. But that policy was quickly scrapped, when restaurants managers said they had long queues for people wanting to smoke shisha, while the non-smoking tables lay empty.
Figures from the two new reports also show that incidents of “passive smoking” in Qatar continue to be a problem.
In response to the GATS survey, one-quarter (25.9 percent) of adults said they had been exposed to second-hand smoke in restaurants, while the youth survey showed that nearly half (47.9 percent) of students said they were exposed to tobacco smoking in public places.
It is illegal to smoke in enclosed spaces in Qatar, but enforcement – particularly at popular malls – has been a longtime problem.
The report states:
“There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke, and even brief exposure can cause serious damage.
Only a total ban on smoking in all indoor public places (including indoor workplaces) protects people from the harms of secondhand smoke, helps smokers quit, reduces smoking rates, and prevents initiation among youth.”
There has been recent discussion in Qatar about introducing stricter anti-smoking laws, although no defined timeline for this has been given.
Dr. Ahmed al Mulla, director of Hamad Medical Corp’s anti-smoking clinic, was reported in April this year to have said that new legislation is expected to be approved by the Advisory (Shura) Council “soon,” but this has yet to happen.
Steeper fines were expected to be included in the new penalties, such as:
- Raising fines for shops found selling cigarettes to kids QR5,000 (instead of the current QR500 penalty);
- Punishing shops who violate other tenets of the law with fines of up to QR100,000, instead of QR5,000); and
- Shutting down shops who repeatedly flout the law.
The GATS survey also showed that many smokers in Qatar start young.
Nearly half of all current smokers started taking up the habit before the age of 18 (45.5 percent of all current smokers are ages 20 to 24 years old), while nearly 10 percent of men who currently smoke started when they were younger than 15 years old.
The report said: “Increasing the price of tobacco through higher taxes is the single most effective way to encourage tobacco users to quit and prevent youth from starting to smoke.
Taxes need to be increased regularly to correct for inflation and consumer purchasing power.”
While influences such as family members who smoke play a part, media and marketing also play a role.
Around 20 percent of students said they owned items that have tobacco company branding, while four in 10 said they noticed tobacco promotions at tills, the Peninsula reported.
The SCH’s Director of Public Health, Dr. Mohammed bin Hamad al Thani blamed the rise in smoking among young people in Qatar on tobacco companies’ campaigns.
“(They) constantly work on targeting new customers and they have been able to attract a percentage of women in Qatar in the last few years,” Qatar Tribune quotes him as saying.
Al Thani also said he was considering introducing a tax on shops which sell tobacco in Qatar, however he added that such a move would need consensus from all GCC states.