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Nur ar-Ramadan

Saudi Arabia: Ramadan Helps Many to Quit Smoking
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Habib Shaikh, Arab News

 

JEDDAH, 24 October 2004 — One of the many benefits of Ramadan is that not only does the sale of cigarettes go down, but many Muslims find it a help in giving up smoking. Even “passive fasters” speak of benefiting from the holy month.

Studies in Saudi Arabia have shown that cost was not an important factor in the decision to kick smoking. “Ramadan does not cost a person anything, instead it gives him a lot, including a chance to give up the habit,” said Muhammad Ali, who used to smoke two packets a day.

“I made many resolutions to give up smoking,” he said. “One Ramadan I refrained from lighting up after iftar. It was a bit difficult to control the urge for a few days, but I resisted, and by the end of the month, the habit ended forever,” he added.

Examples of non-Muslims fasting during Ramadan are not rare. Many of them fast for the spiritual experience and the associated benefits relating to health and the psyche.

S.C., who wanted only his initials to be used, said he discovered the benefit of fasting while overcoming the habit of chain-smoking.

Two others, who wanted to remain anonymous, one said he has been fasting three days each Ramadan for the last five years, during which he was able to give up smoking.

“I have started to fast for a couple of days in Ramadan since 2003 in order to give up smoking,” said his friend, a software consultant.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has provided countries with guidelines for comprehensive national tobacco control programs. These guidelines include health promotion activities, media advocacy, encouragement of smoking cessation, legislative measures, fiscal measures such as tobacco taxation, and effective protective measures against involuntary exposure to secondhand smoke. One can add fasting to it.

A study conducted about five years ago on prevalence and determinants of cigarette smoking among Saudi nationals in three regions of Saudi Arabia had noted that it was an important public health problem in the Kingdom and suggested that a more intense and comprehensive tobacco control effort was needed.

The WHO has described tobacco smoking as an epidemic. The global smoking epidemic is expected to remain as one of the greatest causes of premature death, disease, and suffering for decades to come. The WHO has estimated that the number of deaths each year from smoking-attributable disease will increase to 10 million within the next 25 years or so, of which 70 percent will occur in developing countries.

No nationwide studies on the prevalence of tobacco smoking have been carried out in Saudi Arabia. Small-scale studies have shown a prevalence of between 8 percent and 57 percent.

The Kingdom ranks fourth in the world when it comes to import and consumption of tobacco. The estimated six million smokers among Saudis and expatriates spend SR1 billion annually on buying cigarettes and tobacco.

Nearly 23,000 people die annually in Saudi Arabia of smoking-related diseases.

The Council of Ministers has introduced a legislation to ban smoking in public places, especially in facilities near mosques, as well as in ministries and in health, education, sport and cultural institutions and public transport.

It is prohibited to smoke near and around the Grand Mosque in Makkah, and Madinah has been declared a non-smoking city.

The national carrier, Saudi Arabian Airlines, was among the pioneers to prevent smoking on flights when in 1987 it banned smoking on its domestic flights of less than two hours flight time. Two years later it received a WHO award for being the first airline in the Middle East to do so.

Quit and Be Happy

The Smoking Cessation Clinic set up by the Charity Organization for Raising Awareness on the Harms of Smoking and Drugs continues its work during Ramadan. The anti-smoking therapy is by professionals and costs SR20 per session. Each patient is required to attend six sessions to benefit from the therapy. Currently, therapy is offered to men only but there are plans to provide sessions for women. Working hours during Ramadan is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. The clinic is located at Al-Jamiatul Khairiyah on Abdullah Al-Sulaiman Street in Al-Faiyha District above Al-Shamil market and bakery. Tel/Fax 6321111, 6302233.

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