SEVERAL studies in mice have shown how tobacco products can potentially act as gateway drugs, increasing the possibility of the smoker using illicit drugs. The culprit, researchers declared, is nicotine, which makes the brain more susceptible to drug addiction.
Studies suggest that if governments can lower smoking rates among young people, they may also be able to reduce drug addictions and crime rates. How policy makers in the Kingdom are under pressure to come up with strategies to help smokers kick the habit and reduce the overall number of smokers in the country, Al-Riyadh daily investigates.
Like many smokers, a college student who requested anonymity, said she started smoking as a teenager.
“My parents are divorced. My siblings and I live with our father who does not spend any time with us. He is always out, hanging out with his friends. The first time I smoked was with a group of high school friends. I felt dizzy but I began to like it eventually. After a while, I started smoking hookah,” she said.
Although she has tried several times to give up smoking, she has been unable to kick her addiction for good. Her advice to parents is to keep a close eye on their young sons and daughters and spend quality time with them to enhance mutual bonding so they can warn them of the dangers of picking up bad habits like smoking.
“We do not know the exact number of male and female smokers in the country because we do not have any accurate statistics. There are several studies on smoking but their results do not agree with one another. One thing is for sure though: The number of teenagers who smoke cigarettes and hookah has been on the rise,” noted Dr. Rashed Al-Juma, director of the Eastern Province Anti-Smoking Program run by the Ministry of Health.
Some studies showed that over 95 percent of drug addicts started smoking cigarettes before they turned 18. The studies also noted that 99 percent of smokers are addicted to smoking before they turn 30.
Dr. Al-Juma said an increasing number of young women who smoke are visiting anti-smoking clinics for help. Some of them are as young as 20 and want to quit smoking because they have gotten engaged and are frightened that their fiancés will find out about their addiction.
To intensify its anti-smoking efforts, the Ministry of Health recently began operating mobile anti-smoking clinics that go to malls and neighborhoods. The clinics have male and female specialists who can educate smokers on the detrimental effects of tobacco on health.
Amal Al-Saihati, supervisor of the Anti-Smoking Program in the Eastern Province, recalled some of the shocking stories of smokers she has heard over the years. Perhaps the most shocking was that of an eight-year-old boy who was addicted to tobacco and had to undergo a three-month program, after which he stopped using tobacco.
“We focus on children and attach great importance on educating them about the dangers of smoking and the use of tobacco,” she said.
Al-Juma said he was confident of the government’s anti-smoking measures and cited the recently issued anti-smoking law to curb this menace by imposing heavy taxes on tobacco. Taxes collected from the sale of tobacco products will be used to finance anti-smoking programs Kingdomwide.
“This is a good thing and very promising for the Kingdom’s anti-smoking efforts,” he said.