Qatar is mulling a move to increase tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products in a bid to curb their use. The move also includes raising penalties on smoking in places where it is legally banned in a bid to discourage smokers from continuing with the habit and reduce the number of tobacco addicts in the country in line with the target set within goals of the National Development Plan 2011-2016, Qatari daily The Peninsula reported on Monday.

Smoking has been banned since in 2002 in public places, including schools and restaurants. According to the daily, cigarette manufacturers may be asked to print pictures on cigarette packets highlighting the dangers of smoking.

Under the proposal, shopping complexes that allow smoking will be fined.

At least one billion cigarettes are smoked in Qatar each year and on an average, an individual smokes 12,000 cigarettes annually, according to a study conducted by the Weil Cornell Medical College in Qatar.

The study suggests that a staggering $65m is spent on cigarettes annually, while $150m is spent to cover healthcare costs of patients affected by smoking-related diseases.

A 2006 survey shows that 25 percent of young males in Qatar are smokers, with women smokers comprising five percent.

A study of preparatory and secondary schools conducted in 2004 suggests that nearly 26 per cent of male students and 15 per cent of female students were smokers.

Keeping the increasing prevalence of smoking and use of other tobacco products like ‘sheesha’ in view, Qatar, in its National Development Strategy 2011-2016 has set the target to reduce the rate of smoking among adult men by three per cent, from the current 32 per cent.

However, to achieve this, the government will increase awareness about the health risks of tobacco, including ‘sheesha’ and smokeless products, and provide cessation support services, provide services linked to school health initiatives and develop policies to reduce tobacco consumption.

Critics, however, remain unconvinced of the state’s resolve to curb smoking and say the authorities claim they are trying to discourage smoking, but they are actually encouraging ‘sheesha’ joints, the daily reported.

According to critics, traditional eateries at tourist spots like Souq Waqif and the Cultural Village have ‘sheesha’ joints as a major attraction as part of the local culture and traditions. Not only men, women can also be seen enjoying ‘sheesha’ at some joints in these places.

Several Qatari newspaper columnists have been opinion pieces about the evils of ‘sheesha’ smoking but in vain.
The owners of restaurants that offer ‘sheesha’ are reluctant to do away with it and say it is a major attraction for customers.