August 30, 2014 - 2:13:49 am

Qatari society, especially the younger generation, is facing a new threat in the form of chewing tobacco, also known as ‘sweka’. Cheaper than costly addictive drugs, it brings the same results to its users — diseases and death.

Low prices and easy availability are boosting the use of ‘sweka’ and other kinds of tobacco in Qatar. Earlier, it was popular only among limited-income workers, but now it is being consumed by the wealthy as well. What is disturbing is the growing use of ‘sweka’ by teenagers. Studies show that use of ‘sweka’ is increasing at an alarming rate among youth.

A study conducted by Social Rehabilitation Centre and the Research and Policy Analysis Centre of the Supreme Education Council in 2012 revealed that at least 78 percent of the users of chewing tobacco were Qatari students and their average age was 17. Many of them had been chewing ‘sweka’ since the age of 14. Most of the addicted Qatari students belonged to well-off and highly educated families.

Another survey found that about 15 percent of the preparatory and secondary school students in Qatar use ‘sweka’.

According to the World Health Organisation’s Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2013, about seven percent of Qataris between the ages of 18 and 64 consume smokeless tobacco.

Although ‘sweka’ consumption is not allowed in Qatar, it is not difficult to spot those selling the addictive substance.

Every Thursday and Friday, there is a street market in the Industrial Area for selling different kind of goods, including CDs, medicines, aphrodisiacs and mobile phones. One can see people selling different kinds of tobacco, including ‘sweka’, at these markets.

‘Sweka’ is also sold widely in the old neighbourhoods of Doha. Many ‘sweka’ dealers can be seen in the Old Ghanim area and near the National Library roundabout.

The transaction between the customers and dealers takes place in a matter of minutes. As soon as a customer arrives, a seller approaches him and quickly disappears after handing over a package.

Khalid Al Suwaidi, a Qatari national, said easy availability of ‘sweka’ was behind its increasing use by students. “The problem is that it is easy to get, is cheap and is easy to hide. Its usage is also not reflected in the users’ behaviour. That is why it is widely used among students. Parents should take responsibility in preventing their children acquirng such habits,” he said.

Experts say that the menace of ‘sweka’ addiction can be curbed by raising awareness and better law enforcement. “The government is doing its best to stop trading and selling of ‘sweka’ in the country, but the issue has to be taken more seriously. There should be strict monitoring at entry points to the country. A new anti-‘sweka’ law should be implemented with tough punishments for violators,” said education expert Abdul Aziz Al Mulla.