Egypt’s government has announced its decision to ban smoking cigarettes and shisha (also known as argilleh or hookah) from all public spaces.
According to Egypt’s Minister of Health Adel El-Adawi, the decision to ban all forms of tobacco in public as the burden on the state through health costs associated with smoking have risen to an all-time high.
With 30 percent (or 27 million) of Egypt’s population currently using tobacco products and 50 percent of Egypt’s 90 million people exposed to second-hand smoking, the number of deaths from cancer caused by tobacco and tuberculosis has reached new levels.
According to the WHO in 2009, one third of cancer deaths in Egypt were related to tobacco consumption. In 2015, the Health Ministry reported the number of deaths from lung cancer, heart disease and other non-infectious diseases had reached 170,000 per year, with lung cancer playing a significant role.
The WHO added that over the past 30 years, the number of smokers in Egypt increased over twice as fast as the population. This has resulted in more than 19 billion cigarettes smoked annually in Egypt, making it the largest market in the Arab world and one of the top ten per capita consumers of tobacco.
One of the rising concerns from smoking shisha (water pipe) has been the spread of tuberculosis.According to the WHO in 2009, 17 percent of tuberculosis cases in the eastern Mediterranean were attributable to the smoking of water pipes. In Egypt, this translated to 30 people in every 100,000. Experts have often said that while cafes often provide customers with new mouthpieces, bacteria can still reside in the shisha’s tube, glass and water.
Along with the deadly consequences, the Minister of Health added that tobacco consumption has caused considerable economic loss due to rising health costs and the loss of productivity among civilians during a time when Egypt’s economy is turbulent. In 2005, the health care cost of treating tobacco related diseases was estimated at EGP 3.4 billion ($US 616 million).
According to the Ministry of Health, those found smoking in public spaces, including on the street (including street cafes), parks and playgrounds, public transport, shopping centres and more will face a fine of EGP 400 ($US 52).
Moreover, restaurants and cafes will need to obtain a license to allow smoking on their premises.
While the government has not actually issued a new ban on smoking cigarettes or shisha and this is an ‘April Fools’ article, the information about the deadly consequences and health costs of smoking in Egypt are true.
In fact, banning shisha in public was previously attempted by the Egyptian government. In 2007, Parliament banned smoking in public spaces, but never enforced the law and never released any regulations surrounding the ban.
Meanwhile, in 2009, Egypt banned smoking shisha at Khan El-Khalili’s cafes, citing the importance of wiping out smoking in public spaces. However, after outrage by locals and demonstrations, the ban was quickly lifted and the government has since not attempted to ban smoking in public.
Despite a recent 50 percent tax increase, the third such increase in a year, a cigarette pack is available for as little as EGP 12.5 ($US1.64) or as much as EGP 22.5 ($US 2.95) for the likes of Marlboro, Dunhill, Merit and Davidoff.
While the government has banned those under the age of 18 from purchasing tobacco, coffee shops, restaurants, bars and more are filled with youth smoking shisha and cigarettes.
Meanwhile, second hand smoking does not only impact and harm adults who are gathering with their friends in a public space, but also children. As shisha has become increasingly popular, now being available in indoor shopping centres and plazas, it is not uncommon to see families smoking shisha and cigarettes as children sit with them.
The spread of shisha and smoking in restaurants and cafes has reached the extent where it is often rare to be able to enjoy a meal or coffee without being subjected to second-hand smoking. Smoking is also common in hospitals and government facilities, despite a ban in 2007 that was only temporarily enforced. Along with this, the environmental impacts are clear, as the Nile River and Egypt’s streets are littered with cigarette butts.
From the cost of tuberculosis and lung cancer to the dangers of second hand smoking and impacts on Egypt’s youth, perhaps the government and the people should turn this from an April Fools article to reality.