Official: Tobacco companies pressuring Qatar to remove warning labels

cigarette

Iain Farrell / Flickr

In a sign that new graphic warnings on cigarette packs are turning consumers away from smoking, tobacco companies have begun pressuring Qatar to remove the labels, a senior official at the Supreme Council of Health (SCH) has said.

A GCC-wide ban on tobacco products that don’t carry the warnings took effect last year. They include images of damaged lungs and jaws that must take up at least half of the front and back of a cigarette pack and shisha product. The requirement is also practiced in the UK and other countries.

At a press conference to announce the results of the 2013 Global Adult Tobacco Survey, Dr. Mohammed Al Thani, Director of the Public Health Department at the SCH, said, as quoted by the Peninsula:

“Tobacco companies would target countries with low number of smokers to promote their business… They are putting pressure on Qatar to remove the graphic warning labels on cigarette packets.”

Survey results

The survey, a World Health Organization (WHO) initiative that spans many countries, found that in Qatar, some 10 percent of the adult population smokes.

The figures were drawn from interviews with 8,571 randomly selected households inside of Qatar (both expat and nationals), but people living in labor camps were not included.

This finding contrasts significantly with figures quoted by a Hamad Medical Corp. official last year, stating that more than a third of Qatar residents – some 37 percent, or 600,000 people – are smokers.

Warnings

The Global Adult Tobacco Survey also found that graphic warnings on packs of cigarettes appear to be influencing smoking consumers.

Some 51.4 percent of smokers polled said they had thought about quitting because of the warning labels on cigarette packs. However, far fewer shisha smokers  – 23.8 percent – were influenced in this way.

Other highlights of the survey include:

  • Some 85.9 percent supported increasing taxes on tobacco products;
  • About 14,000 adults ( 3.4 percent of those surveyed) said they smoked shisha. Five times more Qatari men than women smoke shisha; compared to twice as many non-Qatari men to women.
  • Many of Qatar’s habitual smokers began their habit young. Some 8.6 percent of smokers aged 20-34 started smoking before the age of 15 years old; and 45.5 percent began while under the age of 18.
  • Some 66.8 percent of smokers were interested in quitting. However, only 38 percent had actually tried to quit in the past 12 months.

The survey also covered the issue of passive smoking, an issue reignited recently by the recent introduction of new restrictions on shisha smoking at Souq Waqif, designed to reduce the effect of secondary smoke, both indoors and out.

The survey found that 12 percent of adults who work indoors in Qatar are exposed to passive smoking at work; 16.8 percent in their homes; and 25.9 percent in restaurants.

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