On World No Tobacco Day, Jordanians struggle to ‘Commit to Quit’

The day is celebrated on May 31 of every year with the goal of raising awareness about the “tobacco epidemic” and the dangers of smoking. (Photo: Unsplash)
The day is celebrated on May 31 of every year with the goal of raising awareness about the “tobacco epidemic” and the dangers of smoking. (Photo: Unsplash)
AMMAN – Today marks World No Tobacco Day, an occasion launched by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1987.اضافة اعلان

The day is celebrated on May 31 of every year with the goal of raising awareness about the “tobacco epidemic” and the dangers of smoking.  

This year’s theme, “Commit to Quit,” was declared in response to a worldwide increase in the number of smokers hoping to quit after being deemed more vulnerable to developing severe cases of COVID-19. 

Jaimie Guerra, the communications and advocacy manager at the WHO in Geneva, noted in an interview with Jordan News that while the pandemic has inspired people to quit smoking, it has also made that undertaking more difficult, whether due to economic stress, working from home, or other challenges to mental health. 

“This campaign is meant to show support and provide resources for those people,” she said, referring to the digital tools, mobile apps, support networks, and smoking cessation toolkit made available by the WHO. 

Guerra added that some of the day’s events include the release of a mini-series called “The Quitter Diaries,” which features the stories of six people from around the world, one of whom is a Jordanian man who details his own experience with smoking. 

Currently, Jordan’s smoking rates are among the highest in the world. According to a 2019 government study conducted in partnership with the WHO, 8 in 10 Jordanian men regularly use some form of nicotine product, with cigarette smokers consuming a daily average of 23 cigarettes.

Smoking in Jordan is a cultural phenomenon that has shown no signs of abating. Zaher Risiq, who has been smoking since his early college years, told Jordan News that he believes the pervasiveness of smoking in Jordan owes in part to years of poor economic conditions, pushing people to look to cigarettes as a distraction. 

“I resort to smoking as an escape from reality. It puts my mental state at ease, which is why I continue to do it despite potential health risks,” he explained. 

Ahmad Masarweh, a smoker and a colleague of Risiq, told Jordan News that despite three attempts to quit and a year-long hiatus, he always finds himself going back to smoking, confessing that old habits die hard. 

Masarweh added that smoking cigarettes provides him with “a source of entertainment” when he is stuck in traffic or finds himself at a red light.

He described smoking as constituting a fundamental part of his social scene — an emblem of “prestige” that makes it all the more difficult to quit, despite the health problems that he has encountered as a result.

“I don’t really smoke when I’m home alone, but as soon as I’m out with friends I find myself smoking cigarette after cigarette,” he said. 

Larissa Al-Uar of Tobacco-Free Jordan, a local NGO launched with the goal of protecting children from secondhand smoke and advocating for the proper implementation of smoking regulations, believes that the lack of smoke-free environments in Jordan hinders efforts of those like Masarweh trying to quit smoking.

“It is difficult to quit smoking in a country where you are always exposed to secondhand smoke. … whether you are an employee at a government office or an attendee at a wedding or a funeral,” she explained.  

In addition to the prevalence of relatively cheap nicotine products across the country, Uar cited noncompliance with Jordanian Health Law 47/2008 –– which bans smoking in public, the advertisement and sponsorship of tobacco products, and sales to minors –– as a factor contributing to high smoking rates. 

While she commended the Ministry of Health’s provision of free services like consultations for those attempting to quit nicotine and nicotine replacement therapy, she believes that the government should be stricter in enforcing the prohibition of sponsorship and sale to minors, in addition to imposing higher taxation on tobacco products.  

“Everybody smokes everywhere. This makes it socially acceptable and primes the teenage and child brain towards smoking, making them nicotine addicts by exposure,” she said. She added that most children’s role models, whether parents, teachers, or coaches, tend to be smokers, making them more likely to pick up the habit. 

Tobacco-Free Jordan was founded because concerned mothers felt like they couldn’t take their children anywhere without exposing them to secondhand smoke. Uar stressed the need for more youth-friendly activities to keep children engaged and away from cigarettes, in the hope of creating a future with less smoke. 

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