Smoking in the region
Tobacco kills more than five million people every year; Gulf nations are taking measures to help people kick the habit.
July 1, 2009 3:49 by Aarti Nagraj
In 2007, Saudi’s Health Ministry filed a $34 billion lawsuit against 13 Saudi importers of cigarettes from international tobacco companies, for costs of medical treatment of smoking-related illnesses.
Health Minister Hamad Al Manie said the lawsuit is part of a stepped-up anti-smoking campaign in the kingdom. “It’s a duty that we in the ministry have to perform,” he said. The case targets the local agents rather than the international tobacco companies because “it’s the agents that bring the cigarettes into the country,” Al Manie said.
“We have patients who are sick because of the agents who import cigarettes,” he said. “We have documented proof that these diseases were caused by smoking, and I am asking for compensation for these patients.”
According to him, the health and economic costs of tobacco-related illnesses in the kingdom amount to more than $1.3 billion a year.
In 2006, Egyptian scholar Gamal Al Banna angered religious leaders for saying that smoking should be allowed during the holy month of Ramadan. He said that there was no basis in Sharia law for its banning. Smoking does not need to be banned, because it did not exist at the time when the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was alive, he said.