Smoking has been linked to thousands of deaths in Jordan every year, statistics from the Directorate of Awareness and Health Education at the Ministry of Health, released to coincide with the launch of a nationwide anti-smoking campaign, state.
The aggressive campaign banning smoking in public places mainly targets young Jordanians with a special focus on school and university students, almost 50% of whom are smokers, in a country where 29% of the adult population smokes. It is promoted with support from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and civil society organisations.
“Definitely, we need a huge campaign to deter young people from smoking as this phenomenon is becoming a true disease affecting the health of the youth, as young as 14 if not younger, and those around them,” said Dr Saliba Emseeh, a general practitioner.
“It breaks my heart when I see kids as young as 9 or 10 smoking cigarettes and youth from both sexes sitting at a café enjoying a shisha without realising the damage it causes to their health.”
Ministry of Health statistics, released in conjunction with World No Tobacco Day, indicate that 11.4% of young people 13-15 years old smoke cigarettes and 26.7% smoke shisha. Overall, 9.3% of all Jordanians smoke shisha. The ministry said that smoking is blamed for the death of one of every eight Jordanians.
Emseeh said the anti-smoking campaign would not stop young people from smoking in public places even though the ministry had appointed 566 officers to oversee the implementation of the newly amended Public Health Law.
The law, which prohibits smoking in public and closed places, carries penalties up to three months in prison and a maximum fine of $280. Selling tobacco to people younger than 18 and allowing smokers to use public facilities could be punished by up to nine months in prison and fines ranging $1,400-$4,220.
The amendments, introduced in line with Jordan’s National Tobacco Control Strategy 2016-18, constituted a pivotal shift in Jordan’s efforts to curb smoking. It is supported by WHO and King Hussein Cancer Foundation Centre.
WHO projected the tobacco consumption rate among Jordanians would reach 50% by 2025. Globally, tobacco use will cause nearly 6 million deaths per year.
Salem (not his real name), 14, comes from a family of smokers and he blames his parents for his addiction which he says makes him “look cool.”
“I am already a smoker at home since my parents smoke a lot so it is a normal thing that I try it and I like it,” he said. “Some of my friends smoke, too, and at school we sneak out for a cigarette and it is some kind of bonding among friends. I find it very helpful when I need to relax.”
“I am sure that smoking hurts your body but what to do now that I am hooked on it and maybe, and that is a big maybe, I will stop when I grow older,” he added.
The ministry said second-hand smoke affects 62% of children aged 13-15 years.
“Smokers still believe that they cannot hurt people around them and this is a problem,” said Samer Attiyah. “Both my wife and I are smokers but we smoke outside the house. We tried several times to stop without success. I think we are too old to stop now.”
The Association Tobacco Free Jordan, a group of Jordanian citizens concerned about the risks of second-hand smoking and tobacco addiction, said second-hand smoke is a cause of premature birth and serious cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, including coronary heart disease and lung cancer.
Women in Jordan are hooked more on smoking shisha, including taking their own shisha with them everywhere they go.
“I carry my little shisha when I visit my friends and we have our shisha session. The shisha is a good way to enjoy a gathering more than cigarettes and it even smells better. I don’t think there is a problem with enjoying a shisha twice a week,” said Lubna Abeddayem, 28.
“Of course, there are many females who smoke publicly and others secretly due to society issues. Who can forget an incident last year when a Jordanian husband divorced his wife because she did not want to quit shisha? I still think it is a personal choice whether to smoke or not.”
Jordan’s Anti-Smoking Society said Jordanians spend around $650 million a year on cigarettes.
The Jordanian government this year raised the tax on cigarettes by $0.64 to $1.70, a move hailed by anti-tobacco activists but scorned by smokers.
Roufan Nahhas, based in Jordan, has been covering cultural issues in Jordan for more than two decades.