Average Smoking Age: 17

Average Smoking Age: 17Average Smoking Age: 17

More than 90 percent of adult smokers start smoking before leaving their teen years, bringing the average smoking age to 17 in the country, said deputy health minister Dr. Ali Akbar Sayyari, at a press conference on the 'No Tobacco Week' (May 25-31).

About 65 billion cigarettes are consumed annually and 3.5% of Iranians smoke hookahs (water pipes) on a daily basis, while the percentage of women smokers has increased, he said, reports Fararu News Agency.

Smoking has been found to harm nearly every bodily organ. "It is a leading cause of cancer and is responsible for the death of nine out of 10 people with lung cancer," Sayyari warned, adding that it also increases the chances of heart disease or stroke by two to four percent.

Further, smoking causes chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, inflammation, impaired immune function, and worsens asthma symptoms in adults. Smokers are at higher risk of developing pneumonia and tuberculosis.

"Currently there are 70 tobacco rehabilitation centers that are to be integrated with the health medical centers. In addition, the existing 17,000 health houses and 6,000 medical care stations in cities are to be developed soon," he said.

Noting that the health ministry "has failed to increase taxes" on tobacco imports, Sayyari said the matter will be pursued in the current calendar year (started March 21).

Studies reveal that higher income countries, where cigarettes are more expensive, have lower levels of cigarette smuggling than lower income countries, contrary to the tobacco industry's claim that the overall level of smuggling is dependent on cigarette prices. Nearly 15 to 20% of tobacco in the market is smuggled, a rate that puts Iran – a relatively well-to-do nation, on par with the latter group in terms of illegal trafficking.

"That's why increasing the price of tobacco products will help reduce its use among teenagers, by making it expensive to afford," stressed Sayyari.

  Hookah Use Higher

Two consecutive studies on tobacco use in Iran between 2003 and 2005 revealed that 3 percent in the 13-15 age groups were regular smokers; the studies were not extended due to lack of cooperation from the health ministry, said Behzad Valizadeh, an expert at the National Tobacco Control Secretariat in the Environmental and Occupational Health Center.

Cigarette consumption is highest in the age group 25-35 years. Smoking hookah (waterpipe) is on the rise and has doubled between 2009 and 2011, and is higher among women, he noted. A hookah typically lasts 40 minutes, and users consume 100 to 200 times the smoke of a cigarette.

Dr. Khosrow Sadeghniat, head of the Work and Environment Health Center, said the studies would resume this year "if all goes well." In a study by the World Health Organization (WHO), Iran was not considered a high tobacco consuming nation, "but will become one in the next three to four decades if no strategic control is applied," he cautioned.

Coffee houses, restaurants, and traditional Iranian bistros that supply hookahs have faced stringent action and 73 places were shut down last year, said Shahnam Arshi of Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences.

Earlier this month, the municipality in an anti-tobacco drive banned newsstands from selling tobacco products, but the measure was hastily modified, allowing kiosk owners to sell but not display the products.