Putting out the cigarette

Smoking (Kailani)
“The pleasant ambience of the country’s markets, cafes, and squares are tarnished by the festering smell of tobacco, ...” writes Jordan News columnist Mohammad Kailani. (Photo: Pxfuel)
It is safe to say that Jordan has a stellar reputation and a lot of strong points that are difficult to encounter in our tumultuous region. Be it the efficient rule of law, good quality healthcare, and acceptance of different faiths, Jordan succeeds in many areas where much of the Middle East is lacking. However, there is a specific area where Jordan falls behind the rest. A phenomenon that most of the world considers revolting and unhealthy is simply part and parcel of Jordanian life, and that is the constant, overwhelming, and dangerous smoking of cigarettes. The Global Adult Tobacco Survey taken last year has found that Jordan’s smoking rate is the highest in the world. As 66 percent of males and 17 percent of females smoke cigarettes, the average Jordanian consumes an astounding 23 cigarettes per day.اضافة اعلان

Doctors across the country warn of a looming public health crisis as cigarette smoke pollutes Jordan’s air. The pleasant ambience of the country’s markets, cafes, and squares are tarnished by the festering smell of tobacco that viciously attacks the lungs of everyone on the premises. While one does not need to go into great detail about the harmful effects of cigarettes on the person that smokes them, secondhand smoke can have debilitating effects on both adults and children. In the US, for example, a country that smokes far less than Jordan per capita, tens of thousands of lung cancer and heart issue-related deaths are directly attributed to secondhand smoke every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While there have been efforts to combat the dark legacy of the dark smoke of cigarettes, it often feels as though the nation’s institutions are indifferent to the problem.
Still, there is an organization that has made strides towards achieving a smoke-free and healthy Jordan, “Tobacco Free Jordan”. Founded in 2011, it has taken a number of steps to combat the plague of cigarettes, namely the publication of a children’s story to educate young ones about the harms of smoking, billboard campaigns, public service announcements on TV, as well as cooperating with the government for stricter antismoking measures. “Laliltadkheen”, as it is known in Arabic, has been called a “Jordanian success story” by His Majesty King Abdullah, and was given the 2020 “World No Tobacco Day Award”, along with gaining 1.5 million followers on Facebook. Of course, if anyone wants to discuss anti-smoking campaigning in Jordan, they must speak to Zeina Shahzada, founder and vice president of this organization that started as a movement on social media before it became a nonprofit organization.

“Weakness in law enforcement allows children to buy tobacco products like cigarettes, shisha, and electronic cigarettes, which also results in indirect marketing”, she said. In short, neglect from bodies meant to ensure the safety of Jordanians results in one of the biggest threats to Jordanian life. In discussing the adverse effects of this phenomenon, Shahzada emphasized that “a nation becomes ill at a young age due to smoking. Smokers end up spending more on tobacco products than, for example, healthy food for their families. Another effect is an expensive health care bill which costs the government over a JD1 billion in tobacco related diseases annually.” Further highlighting the economic aspect of the situation, Shahzada addded that “the cheapness of these products also plays a role”. To this end, highly taxing cigarettes could deter the public from consuming them. Some time ago, I was in an Uber where the driver had quit smoking. When I inquired about how he stopped, he said that the price of cigarette packs was simply too much. Warnings on boxes are ignored, but direct repercussions on finances are an effective motivator to quit.

Larissa Aluar, the organization’s general secretary, echoed this sentiment. “The lack of implementation means everyone can smoke everywhere, so this is not something looked down upon.” When it comes to the nation-wide effects of this epidemic, Aluar rightly pointed out that the innumerable early deaths caused by tobacco consumption lead to sharp declines in the workforce. This has social implications as well. “If these people die young or live with disabilities, how much does that affect their families?” The question was asked rhetorically, albeit with a strong voice of concern. It’s a multifaceted problem, Aluar explained. It is not merely tobacco lobbying, government neglect, and the stubbornness of the general public that allow the problem to persist, but a deadly combination of the three.

The first factor does not get much of the focus when addressing the issue, but to make any meaningful progress this needs to change. Jordan is one of the only countries where foreign tobacco companies sit and debate proposals to pass regulation with activists and government policymakers. Do not be fooled, this is not to ensure smooth cooperation; British and American tobacco executives only bother showing up to object to every meaningful motion presented. What is a bag of cash to the wide array of big tobacco companies that operate here is a broken bank account, body, and family for many Jordanians. Measures to prevent smoking are implemented throughout the world’s developed countries, so it is time that Jordan catches up and stops slowly killing its youth. The fact that foreign entities massively contribute to the problem only rubs salt in a deep and gaping wound.

Every person, institution, organization, and company in the country absolutely must do whatever they can to put an end to this disease, this infectious, horrible, and fatal illness that has spread to every corner of the country. The most depressing part about this issue is that it can be avoided. Having the world’s highest cigarette consumption is not the reputation Jordan wants, and having a nation full of sick people is not a situation Jordan can handle.

Mohammad Rasoul Kailani is a writer and first year student at the University of Toronto. Amongst various other topics, his interests are in Middle Eastern affairs.

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