By Faten Omar

KUWAIT: According to the latest statistics of the Central Statistical Bureau in June 2023, prices of cigarettes and tobacco increased by 0.37 percent. Despite the hike, the smoking rate in Kuwait keeps on increasing, whether with regular cigarettes or alternatives. In 2021, Kuwait ranked first in the Gulf in smoking, as 39.9 percent of men and 3 percent of women in the country are smokers, according to the head of the healthy cities’ office at the health ministry Dr Amal Al-Yahya, indicating the latest statistics by the health ministry showed the annual cost of smoking in Kuwait reached KD 481 million.

In many countries, including Kuwait, vaping is widespread and has reached all demographics. According to Salman El-Enzi, 35, the spread of vaping can be attributed to several factors, the most important of which is that e-cigarettes can be easy to obtain. “Vapes are now available in any small supermarket at affordable prices. This accessibility has contributed to the spread of vaping,” he said. Enzi started vaping as a safer alternative to traditional smoking, but later he discovered they were all the same, so he switched again.

“I believed vaping was less harmful than smoking cigarettes, but it never led me to quit, although it reduced my cigarette consumption.” As for Hatan Fatafta, 17, vaping started as a curiosity. “The allure of trying something new led me to experiment with vaping, along with the social influence that played a significant role. I also got encouragement and positive experiences and recommendations from friends and family too,” she said. The large variety of vape flavors is the main attraction for many, including 32-year-old Nahla Ahmed. She pointed out vapes are easy to smoke in public places and non-smoking areas because of the light smoke and smell.

According to Anwar Borahma, Secretary General of the Kuwait Society for Preventing Smoking and Cancer and member of the MoH committee for the National Program for Combating Smoking, Kuwait has a high rate of smokers because tobacco and nicotine replacement methods are inexpensive, and authorities don’t strictly enforce the smoking ban law in most public places. In May 2021, the anti-smoking committee of the Kuwait Anti-Smoking Society conducted a questionnaire on e-cigarettes with 784 participants.

The results showed 27.8 percent of them were smokers, where 24 percent believed vaping helps to quit smoking and 16 percent said it is safer than traditional smoking. Meanwhile, 33 percent believe vaping is an introduction to traditional smoking, 40 considered vaping as a public health problem, while 60 percent said e-smoking must be regulated in public places and workplaces. A cross-sectional study conducted among employees in various ministries in Kuwait from Dec 27, 2018 to Jan 3, 2019 showed that there is a higher prevalence of smoking among males (46.5 percent) than females (6.4 percent). Among the participants, 18.6 percent used one tobacco product exclusively, while 7.4 percent used two or three.