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Number of smokers in the Kingdom on the rise, claims new study

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A recent World Health Organization (WHO) study revealed that there are six million smokers in the Kingdom. The study estimated this number to jump to ten million by 2020, Al-Riyadh daily reported. Around 12 billion cigarettes are smoked every year in the Kingdom, making it the fourth largest country in the world in terms of the number of smokers, according to the study. 40 percent of men smoke compared with 10 percent women and 15 percent of teenagers.

Al-Riyadh daily met several young men and asked them how they became addicted to cigarettes. Muhammad, 42, said he smoked his first cigarette when he 14 years old after friends in the neighborhood convinced him to try it. By 16, he started drinking alcohol and later became addicted to it.

“This was the beginning of the end for me. Smoking was the first spark that started the fire. Following the first cigarette I started falling down. Today, I’m 42 years old and I smoke, drink, do drugs and I’m still unmarried,” he said while urging parents to keep a close eye on their children and ensure they do not fall victim to predators on the streets.

Keep an eye on teenagers

Majed, 32, recently got out of rehab for a drug problem that he said started with a cigarette. He was 19 and gave into what he described as “extreme peer pressure” to smoke his first cigarette. Two years later, he was introduced to drugs and continued using them for 11 years. “Families should keep a close eye on their teenage sons and daughters during this period because it’s a sensitive one and they tend to be vulnerable,” he said.

Neighborhood grocery store is to blame

Mubarak Al-Harthy, executive director of the Charitable Society for Former Drug Abusers, said a study the society conducted showed that 30 percent of school students between 13 and 15 years of age smoke cigarettes while a much smaller number of their female counterparts smoke.

“Unfortunately, smoking as a habit can be seen in elementary schools. This is a dangerous phenomenon and can be attributed to bad company. The grocery stores run by expatriate workers also help in spreading this bad habit. Workers in these stores usually sell individual cigarettes to boys who cannot afford to buy an entire pack,” he said.

“The problem is not serious in girls’ schools as the number of smokers is small,” Al-Harthy added, stressing that a parent who smokes can have a negative impact on his children and make them pick up the negative habit. The study also showed that 40 percent of people are exposed to second-hand smoke because they hang out with smokers.

In the Kingdom, 23,000 people die of smoking-related causes every year or 63.8 people daily. The number of people who have cancer caused by smoking is 10,000 with 80 percent of lung cancer patients identifying as smokers.

Al-Harthy also said second-hand smoke can cause bronchitis and reduce the efficiency of lungs. Above all, it affects children and causes sinusitis and chronic respiratory conditions such as coughing and sore throats.

“Most people would be surprised to hear that 99 percent of people being treated for drug addiction at specialized rehabilitation hospitals started out as smokers before moving on to drugs,” he noted, calling on parents to monitor the actions and behavior of their children.

Kicking the habit

Al-Harthy said many smokers say it is difficult to kick the habit but this is not true. With strong determination and will, a smoker can easily quit this habit, he said.

“Of course there are withdrawal symptoms but they can be treated and dealt with at specialized clinics for smokers who are trying to quit. The clinics, run by the Ministry of Health, can help smokers kick the habit and lead a healthy and long life.”


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