(MENAFN - Arab News) Secretary-General of Anti-smoking Charitable Society Suleiman bin Abdul Rahman Al-Sabih thanked Prince Mansour bin Miteb, minister of Municipal and Rural Affairs, and Health Minister Abdullah Al-Rabeeah Monday for imposing a ban on the sale of cigarettes to teenagers.
As of Monday, the sale of cigarettes in shops, supermarkets and grocery stores to customers under 18 years of age is unlawful.
"This decision is welcomed by all parents since the new rule would prevent smoking among children and juveniles," Al-Sabih said, adding that the new regulation is in line with the Kingdom's vision to prevent smoking among the upcoming generation.
He said the Kingdom is also a signatory to the Tobacco Control Treaty launched by the WHO in May 2003.
According to the treaty, signatories should ban or restrict advertising and other marketing efforts by tobacco companies. Health warnings should cover at least 30 percent of the surface of a pack of cigarettes and all materials used to make tobacco products should be listed on the packaging. The agreement also urges governments to strengthen indoor-air laws, place high taxes on tobacco and act to stop the illegal trade of cigarettes.
Saudi Arabia ranks fourth in global tobacco imports and consumption. Saudis smoke more than 15 billion cigarettes, worth 168 million, per year, according to the figures of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)'s Health Ministers Council.
Prince Mansour's ban came following the recommendations of the third meeting of the National Committee on Fighting Tobacco held in November. The meeting urged the government to take legislative and administrative measures to ban selling tobacco products to youths under 18.
The National Committee, chaired by Al-Rabeeah, took a number of decisions to combat smoking. They also included total ban on smoking in public places and not to display cigarettes prominently on the shelves of supermarkets and grocery stores.
Besides these recommendations, a joint committee comprising officials from the ministry of education and health was to organize Kingdom-wide awareness programs among students to tell them about the hazards of smoking.
In a report released recently, it was said that due to consistent efforts of the health minister, the number of smokers between 13 to 15 years of age in the Kingdom, has been reduced from 19.3 to 14.9 percent over the past three years.
Revealing the findings of a study conducted in the Kingdom recently by the Ministry of Health in cooperation with the World Health Organization and the Atlanta-based Center For Disease Control, Ziad Al-Memish, undersecretary to the ministry for public health said that 30 percent of young people are passive smokers in their own homes and 65 percent of the teenage smokers have a desire to quit smoking.
Majid Al-Muneef, supervisor general of the anti-smoking department in the ministry of health thanked the ministry of education for the cooperation extended in reducing the numbers of teenage smokers.
"We were able to make an effective awareness program among students in the secondary school with the help of the Ministry of Education," he added.