Monday,25 March, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1409, (13-19 September 2018)
Monday,25 March, 2019
Issue 1409, (13-19 September 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Lost in smoke

What should you do if you catch your children smoking, asks Ameera Fouad 

photo: Hemaida Said
photo: Hemaida Said

A café recently opened in the building next to mine, and since then the district has become much more lively. Normal, right? However, what has been less welcome has been to find sometimes dozens of children, not even young people, sitting in the café almost every day to smoke hookas and cigarettes. It seems that anyone can enter a café and order almost anything they like.

Unfortunately, this scene of children smoking in cafés has been repeated in some of the most populated cities in Egypt, including Cairo, Giza, Sohag, Alexandria, Beheira, Ras Al-Bar and on the North Coast.

In an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, Omar Al-Masry, a lecturer in psychology, said that “whether in rural or urban areas, there is little doubt that smoking is a form of behaviour that could destroy an entire generation.”

In his view, parents are largely to blame for children’s smoking. “There is also not enough control exercised by the government or city councils on cafés serving tobacco to kids. Many café-owners are only interested in profits, regardless of whom they are serving,” he added.

Hookas have been popular among young people for years, but children sitting in cafés smoking cigarettes or hookas is a new and worrying phenomenon. It has caused the media to pay attention, condemning it as a possible threat to society as a whole.

Where are the parents of these children? Are they allowed to enter cafés and smoke without any kind of parental control? Many people have been calling for penalties to be levied on cafés serving tobacco to children, and others have called for a strengthening of ethical codes.

“My father is at his clinic, and my mother is taking care of my young sister. I am spending some free time before returning to school,” commented Ahmed, 13, one of four children sitting in a café smoking mango-flavoured tobacco in hookas in the Shatbi district of Alexandria.

Ahmed was in denial. He denied that smoking was not good for him, and he seemed unaware of the dangers of what he was doing with his friends. Passers-by had urged Ahmed and his friends to stop, even arguing with staff at the café to stop them selling tobacco to children. But this had not had any effect.

 “Condemning smoking among children is not enough. Cafés serving tobacco to children should be closed. If there is no law that bans kids from smoking hookas, there is a loophole in the regulations that must be dealt with,” Azza Abdel-Hamid, the mother of two children, said.

“I cannot imagine my children going to a café and smoking. The parents have to be responsible for their kids. They cannot follow them all the time, of course, but they must make every effort to inculcate proper standards of behaviour,” she added. “Giving them too much pocket money and free time will lead to this sort of behaviour, which can be catastrophic for their health.”

Unfortunately, parents sometimes resort to giving their children pocket money as a kind of compensation for their absence, said Omar Makram, a sociologist. He also blamed parents who smoke in front of their kids, saying that this could lead to their becoming smokers in turn.

“If children grow up seeing their father or mother always holding a cigarette in their hands or heading to a café for a waterpipe, they cannot be blamed for following on the same path,” Makram said.

Statistics show that around 600,000 children in Egypt today are thought to be smoking cigarettes, or around 25 per cent of young people between the ages of 12 to 20. Such young smokers range from school pupils to early university students. Studies suggest that there has been a surge in girls smoking cigarettes and hookas in their teens.

Few effective measures are being taken to stop the rise in young people’s smoking. “Watching TV soap operas and drama series with actors showing off their boldness by smoking cigarettes is one of the main reasons for young people smoking,” said Safaa Ismail, a psychology professor at Cairo University.

She added that the lack of effective role models could be a main reason behind the spread of smoking. “We are what we see. If children do not see parents or role models smoking, they will not smoke,” she added.

There is also a widespread misconception that smoking hookas is less dangerous than smoking cigarettes and is a safer alternative. However, according to many studies worldwide, hookas may be even more dangerous for health. “Many people are not aware of the risks of hookas, as they believe mistakenly that passing smoke through water reduces the health risks,” said Thomas Eissenberg, a professor at the Virginia Commonwealth University in the US who studies tobacco use.

According to the Egyptian Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, a waterpipe smoker can inhale the equivalent of the smoke of 150 cigarettes. Ahmed Abdel-Hakim, a surgeon, said that the rise in smoking among young people could lead to higher lung-cancer rates later in life.

However, despite the risks the number of young people smoking will probably continue to grow unless tighter restrictions are put in place around their purchasing and advertising of tobacco, said Mohamed Essam, a café-owner.

Essam, the father of four, said that “as café-owners and parents we have a role to play. I do not allow any child without his or her parents to enter my café or to smoke cigarettes or hookas.”

“Schools and clubs have a major role to play as well,” he added. “Children should make use of their free time by playing sports, socialising in clubs and learning new skills. They should not be smoking hookas and cigarettes,” he concluded.

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