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Al Mulla, whose clinic has met with remarkable success in fighting the menace of tobacco addiction — among adults as well as youngsters — says a whopping QR1.68bn ($460m) is spent annually by people on smoking and chewing tobacco. With the country’s population increasing, the number of tobacco users has been going up, and so has been expenditure on tobacco.
“But that’s only the direct cost of tobacco use in the country,” argues Al Mulla, talking of the amount spent on the killer habit. “We have to consider the indirect costs as well. Take the example of treating tobacco users suffering from different diseases due to their dangerous habit.”
Then there are fires caused by people lighting up in public and at home and due to live cigarette butts carelessly discarded by smokers. “These are all costs that are incurred only because of smoking, and we estimate these indirect costs may not be less, if not more, than the direct expenditure on tobacco use.”
And, of late, what has been worrying anti-smoking campaigners in the country is a gradual increase in the number of shisha users, which includes youngsters — women not excluded.
Notably, whereas tobacco users in Qatar are estimated to number 700,000, there are just a dozen health inspectors armed with judicial powers to curb the menace in public places, where smoking is banned by a law that came into force a little more than a decade ago.
This, in other words, means that for every 58,000 tobacco users, there is one inspector, which, according to observers, is a laughable ratio. And that explains why smokers defiantly carry on with their habit in places like cafeterias in malls and hypermarkets as there are hardly any checks.
There are an additional 30 volunteer inspectors to curb smoking in public places, but the fact that the anti-smoking law is so flagrantly violated, at least in the bigger shopping complexes, shows how ineffective they are in their role.
Anti-smoking campaigners are now banking on a draft law which, they believe, would see a rise in the number of inspectors and arm them with more powers to discharge their duty, aside from prescribing prohibitive fines for violators.
According to Al Mulla, efforts are also on to set up a civil society group dedicated solely to fighting the menace of tobacco use in the country.
“We have applied and we are waiting for approval,” Al Mulla told this newspaper yesterday, speaking about the proposed NGO.