Children as young as 14 join quit-smoking clinics in UAE

More parents are sending their children as young as 14 to quit-smoking clinics this year, Khaleej Times has learned.

Doctors told Khaleej Times they are witnessing a rise in young people looking for ways to quit the habit of smoking after the government introduced 100 per cent excise tax on tobacco last October.

“We had a mother who brought her 14-year-old son in to quit smoking. Sadly we can’t do too much medication because of his age. But he has a lot of parental motivation,” said Iyaad Hasan, a certified tobacco treatment specialist at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.

The smoking cessation programme specialist received seven patients this year between the ages of 14-20, including a 16-year-old and a 14-year-old. He received none last year.

He added that young people are wanting to make lifestyle changes early. “Whenever we asks patients what are their reasons for quitting, the Value Added Tax topped the list, followed by health and making the family happy.”

Hasan said that the hospital is looking to expand its programme, after almost 200 patients followed the programme in 2017, in response to rising demand (around 180 males and 20 females).

“Our clinic is definitely full, we are having a wait time now, because more people are becoming motivated.”

Dr Zuhair Abubakr, specialist, respiratory medicine, Universal Hospital, said more young patients are coming into the clinic to quit smoking.

He said he has received around 40 patients this year who are under 20, with the youngest patient being just 16 years old.

“More young people now have a desire to quit smoking, and the main reasons are health and the high cost of cigarettes. Teenagers turn to smoking because they want to imitate older people and due to peer pressure.”

Ministry forms anti-tobacco committee

The Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHP) have thus created the National Anti-Tobacco Committee, to help raise the numbers of Emiratis and expats quit smoking.

A total of 14 quit-smoking clinics across the country were implemented by the committee, which saw a 25 per cent increase in cases, between 2015-2016.

Less than one month after introduction of the 100 per cent tobacco tax, Federal National Council (FNC) members raised their concerns over the rise in teenagers turning to tobacco usage in the country during a council meeting.

Members addressed Abdul Rahman Mohammed Al Owais, Minister of Health and Prevention (MoHP), stating that 21 per cent of the UAE population are smoking tobacco and a staggering 15 per cent of smokers are under the age of 18.

“Our biggest concern is smokers who are between 10-18 years old and it is a huge responsibility to the authorities concerned,” FNC member, Saeed Al Rumaithi has said.

The minister said the government will continue to raise initiatives and awareness programmes across the UAE.

He added that the quit-smoking clinics helped 20 per cent out of its patients quit smoking, while doctors specialising in the field increased by 150 per cent.

Moreover, he stressed that mobile clinics have also been added, as well as non-conventional medication to help quick smoking.

However, Al Rumaithi stressed that raising anti-tobacco awareness programmes in schools should also be a priority for the ministry.

Smoking killed 2,900 residents

According to the Tobacco Atlas, more than 900,000 adults in the UAE use tobacco products. Reports also indicate that smoking tobacco has lead to the death of 2,900 people in the UAE in 2016, with 2,718 males and 265 females.

Moreover, according to the latest Abu Dhabi Health Survey published by the Department of Health in December 2017, cancer was the third biggest cause of mortality in the emirate in 2016, accounting for 15 percent of deaths after cardiovascular disease (37 per cent) and injuries (20 per cent).

The World Tobacco Programmes also revealed that an average of 27 people die each week due to smoking tobacco, with 24.3 per cent males and 0.8 per cent females.

Smoking has also led to a whopping $569 million in health care costs in UAE in 2016.

Parents blame it on peer pressure

One Abu Dhabi-based parent told Khaleej Times she found out that her 15-year-old son has been smoking since the age of 13.

She added that she only came to know about her son’s habit in February, after finding cigarettes in his school bag.

“I was so shocked to find cigarettes in his bag, I couldn’t believe it and was hoping that he would tell me that it belonged to someone else.”

After confirming it with her teenage son, the mother decided to involve his father and older brother in the matter.

“Since the day we found the cigarettes, we are educating him more about the dangers of smoking. We now keep a close eye on him and have stopped him from going out with certain friends, who we believe influenced him.”

Another expat mother said her 17-year-old daughter has been smoking since the age of 15 and also blames peer pressure from school friends.

The mother of four said that she has done whatever she can to influence her daughter to quit the habit, but said it is difficult to monitor her 24-hours-a-day.

“Our children may often be negatively influenced by their friends with who they spend more time with. We have to educate our children about what’s right and what’s wrong and trust they will make the right decisions.”


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