Jordanians break smoking records amid pandemic

Among the biggest smokers on the planet, Jordanians have further increased their tobacco consumption since the imposition of restrictive measures more than a year ago to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

“From one to two packs a day before the epidemic, I went to four / five today because of stress,” says Mounir Shana, a salesman in a hookah tobacco store in Amman.

“I smoke more and more for a year because of psychological pressures due to partial or total confinements”, assures this young man of 24 years, who is smoking cigarette after cigarette.

Faced with the virus, the authorities established very strict measures in March 2020, including a curfew, aimed at limiting the movement of the population.

– “Comfort” –

Mounir Shana admits spending 300 dinars (around 350 euros) each month for his smoking.

“I know the dangers and I suffer from chest pain, but what do you want? When I am locked between four walls at home, tobacco gives me comfort,” he told AFP.

In 2015, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), Jordanian men were the second highest smokers (70.2%) in the world behind Indonesians (76.2%).

In 2019, eight in ten Jordanian men aged 18 to 69 smoked (“classic” cigarettes, electronic or hookah) (AFP – Khalil MAZRAAWI)

And according to a study carried out in 2019 by the Ministry of Health with the WHO, eight in ten men aged 18 to 69 smoked (“classic” cigarettes, electronic or hookah).

These figures have further increased since the start of the epidemic in the kingdom where more than 700,000 cases, including 8,800 deaths, have been recorded in a population of ten million inhabitants.

According to a survey carried out in April 2020 by the Strategic Center, which depends on the University of Jordan, 52% of 2,400 people questioned said they smoke more since the start of anti-coronavirus measures.

“I think that with the pandemic, tobacco consumption has increased because of the psychological state” of people, notes Abir Mowaswas, doctor responsible for communication at the Ministry of Health.

According to her, 56% of deaths in the kingdom are due to smoking: “Each year, 9,000 people die from tobacco and diseases related to its consumption. (…) Smoking costs the State 204 million dinars “, or around 240 million euros.

In July 2020, the government banned smoking in closed public places, but you only have to go to a ministry, a shopping center or a café to realize that this prohibition is not respected.

Even in Parliament. A photographer was bullied by a deputy whom he had photographed grilling one in the middle of a session in front of a “no smoking” sign.

– “Protect non-smokers” –

The WHO thus insists on the need “to make additional efforts, especially to protect non-smokers”, insists Hala Boukerdenna, an official of this organization in Amman.

If only 20% of Jordanians smoke, because society particularly badly judges a woman engaging in this activity, they are 75.5% to suffer from second-hand smoke, that is to say that released into the air. when a person smokes.

However, the curfew at 7 p.m. forces husbands to be at home earlier, where they indulge their addiction.

“Happy or not, my husband always has a cigarette in his mouth (…) But the worst part is that he smokes at home in front of me and our four children,” says Hanane, a 37-year-old housewife.

“And when I blame him, he tells me he can’t stop,” she adds.

Doctor Anas Al Mouhtaseb shows an anti-smoking leaflet in Amman on March 17, 2021 (AFP - Khalil MAZRAAWI)

Doctor Anas Al Mouhtaseb shows an anti-smoking leaflet in Amman on March 17, 2021 (AFP – Khalil MAZRAAWI)

Since February, the state has increased the number of treatment centers for withdrawal and against addiction from five to twenty. He also launched a social media campaign and created telephone information lines for citizens wishing to quit smoking, says Abir Mowaswas.

Smoker for 33 years, Mohammad Abou Khadra chose a center in the east of Amman, for a final attempt to quit.

A 53-year-old father of five, this bus driver who suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure and shortness of breath hopes this time will be the right one.

But it may not be won. Dr Anas Al-Mohtaseb, who oversees his treatment, treated 125 patients in 2020 with a success rate of just 22%.

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