Riyadh: Saudi Arabia is a conservative society with strict ban on alcohol consumption. However, cigarette smoking, considered equally unlawful by the Sharia, is going unchecked, so much so that the Kingdom imported a whopping 38,500 tons of cigarettes worth about SR3.6 billion ($1 billion) in 2013, a report published in a local media said.
[A man smokes a cigarette at a cafe in Marina Mall, Abu Dhabi. The United Arab Emirates government is in the process of implementing a smoking ban. (Ryan Carter / The National)]
Citing a report published by local business daily Al-Eqtisadiyah, the Saudi Gazette said the Kingdom had imported cigarettes worth SR2.6 billion in 2010, SR3 billion in 2011 and SR2.5 billion in 2012. Combined together, cigarette imports over the past four years were worth a staggering SR13 billion.
Cigarettes occupy 20th place in the list of 50 commodities that the Kingdom imports. Although the Kingdom imports cigarettes from 17 countries, 91 percent of these come mainly from three countries: Germany, Switzerland and Turkey.
About 57 percent of the Kingdom’s imported cigarettes, valued at over SR2 billion, come from Germany.
"The Kingdom's imports of cigarettes from Germany surpass its imports of cars, barley and other items," the newspaper said.
Other countries that export tobacco and cigarettes to the Kingdom include South Africa, India, Czech Republic, France, Indonesia, Poland, the Philippines, Egypt, Italy, Pakistan and others.
Similarly, a HAAD recent statistics showed that the smoking rate within the Emirate of Abu Dhabi ranges between 24-35%.
A 2013 study had revealed that a quarter of all smokers in the UAE had their first cigarette before the age of 10.
According to Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi about 55% of smokers smoke cigarettes, 38% smoke Medwakh, 29% smoke shisha and 14% smoke cigars. In addition, the Global School Health Survey for 2010 found that 80% of students’ had already tried smoking.
However, not all the smokers are Saudis and local Arabs, as Saudi Arabia being a pilgrimage place, rceives millions of people from almost every part of the world to the Kingdom.
Alarmed by the report, the Saudi Naqaa' Society to Combat Smoking will hold a meeting with Acting Health Minister Adel Fakeih during the coming few days to discuss the rising number of smokers in the country.
Dr. Mohammed Yamani, the society's chairman, described the number of men, women and children who are smoking in the Kingdom as frightening.
He said the society will ask the minister to propose to the concerned authorities a significant increase in cigarette prices.
Recently, authorities have taken several measures to curb smoking in public places. They have also barred underage children from buying cigarettes from shops.
In this regard, shopkeepers have been warned of stiff penalties if they are found to be selling cigarettes and other tobacco products to children.