Who cares for 'World No Tobacco Day'?
A picture of a man puffing cigarette right beside a placard of the World No Tobacco Day-2013 carried on the front page of this paper on Saturday highlights the anachronism in sharp contrast. But by no means should it be at all surprising. So far as the government policy on tobacco is concerned all across the globe, it is all the way a paradox. Not a single city in the world can claim to have banished smoking from within its limit. Two cities -Mecca and Medina, to everyone's surprise, have come close to doing away with the 'sinful behaviour' as set out in the religious Fatwas on smoking.
Ever since the publication of health education -an Islamic ruling on smoking by Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office (EMRO) of World Health Organisation (WHO) way back in 1988, there has been a growing opposition to smoking in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. In 2001 late King Fahd announced the royal proclamation for making the two cities free of smoking. Under his brother King Abdallah, Saudi Arabia signed the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2004. A combination of pragmatic approaches, thanks to EMRO, and the religiously inspired radical policy has been a key to fighting the tobacco menace there.
Elsewhere, the contradiction between preaching and practice is as apart as the two poles at the northern and southern tips of this planet. Even the imprints that 'smoking is injurious to health' or the latest 'smoking kills' on cigarette packets in large bold letters only expose the ludicrousness of the game. If people know that consumption of something is so dangerous, why should it be at all manufactured -let alone marketed and put on sale at retail points? One understands that the simple logic does not appeal to many because the huge tobacco market the world over did not gain grounds in one single day. When the fad started catching up with nations, many of them had their special customs of tobacco use such as piped smoking. To smoke from a stick of cigarette is relatively easier and therefore it took the world by storm. But in those days of smoking invasion, people hardly knew the dangerous consequences of smoking.
The challenge therefore lies now in dismantling not just the big industry that tobacco is but also an image built over centuries. The earliest form of cigarettes had their antecedents in the 9th century in Central America and then it was brought to Spain by the 17th century but it assumed its modern form when it entered France where it was named cigarette. The psychological satisfaction associated with smoking is manly for some, mere fad for others and a perverted notion for still others who think it is inspirational. It has, therefore, been a gruelling battle at both individual and multinational levels to make people convinced that the business needs to be wrapped up and the awful habit given up.
It is good to know that more restrictions will be imposed worldwide on promotion of tobacco through ads. But at its present state, restrictions on the promotional aspects will not be enough. The Saudi authority in collaboration with non-government organisations (NGOs) and charities could make a big impact on the product's availability by gradually restricting sale from near the two holy mosques at Mecca and Medina, then from the city centres and again within the city limits. If sales are restricted, chances of black-marketing of the substance rise, so does the price. That is one way of discouraging the habit. Also increased revenue makes tobacco products dearer. The government can try this as well. Making the capital or the country smoking-free overnight is impractical. But measures like those of Saudi Arabia can have a discernible impact on smoking here.