Public health advocates and industry analysts are attributing the high smoking rates to widespread interference in local policy-making by the world’s major tobacco companies.
The survey found that more than 8 out of 10 Jordanian men are believed to either smoke or use other nicotine products and men who smoke daily are estimated to consume an average of 23 cigarettes per day. Excluding e-cigarettes and other “smokeless” products, the research indicated that 66% of Jordanian men and more than 17% of women were smokers, surpassing the rates in Indonesia, which has long been considered as having the world’s highest rates.

“The rates are dangerously high and a predictor of a future public health catastrophe,” said Firas al-Hawari, a physician and head of the cancer-control office at Amman’s King Hussein Cancer Center. Public health advocates and industry analysts are attributing these alarming figures to widespread interference in policy-making by the world’s major tobacco companies, which are said to be allowed to operate in Jordan with comparatively fewer restrictions than in the UK and other countries boasting low smoking rates.

“These companies continue to exercise as much political power as they can in wealthy countries, but they’re more successful in lower-income countries where they face less transparency, can operate more in the dark and overwhelm whatever civic societies exist,” said Rima Nakkash, an associate professor of public health at the American University of Beirut.

Big Tobacco’s influence on local authorities

An article by the Guardian has listed the following points after conducting an investigation of the tobacco industry in Jordan:

  • “Tobacco lobbyists, including from British American Tobacco (BAT), are regularly involved in debating regulations for their products in Jordan to an extent that anti-smoking campaigners say is inappropriate.
  • Jordan ranked second in the world for tobacco company interference in government, according to analysis by a civil society group.
  • Claims that government officials were lobbied by tobacco industry executives on how they should implement public health legislation alongside offers of access to corporate social responsibility money.
  • Philip Morris International has paid to refurbish schools in Jordan, provide children with school bags and run “career development” sessions for young people.
  • PMI also featured on the social media feeds of the Jordanian prime minister, promoting its economic contribution to the country.”

Promoting the use of safer alternatives could help slash the rates

Meanwhile, studies from around the world keep indicating the potential of e-cigarettes to slash smoking rates. A 2019 report by the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), had indicated that contrary to fears by the FDA that vaping could be acting as a gateway to smoking, smoking rates continue to drop amongst all age groups.

The survey data indicate that contrary to the current widespread fear that vaping could be addicting a whole new generation to smoking all over again, cigarette consumption among teenagers, young adults, and the general population, actually continues to decline. Additionally, in line with similar claims by other studies, the report on the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), points out that actually e-cigarettes may be contributing to the downward trend in smoking.

“Fewer than 1 in 6 people aged 12 or older in 2018 were past month cigarette smokers,” notes the SAMHSA report. “Cigarette use generally declined between 2002 and 2018 across all age groups. Some of this decline may reflect the use of electronic vaporizing devices (‘vaping’), such as e-cigarettes, as a substitute for delivering nicotine.”

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