Tobacco Use Surging Among Medical Students

Tobacco Use Surging Among Medical StudentsTobacco Use Surging Among Medical Students

Close to 25% of students of universities of medical sciences in Tehran use tobacco, says Mohammad Reza Masjedi, secretary-general of International Union against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (IUATLD).

“Studies conducted by the Health Ministry show that 1.5% of girls smoke cigarettes, and 25% of all medical students in the capital smoke either cigarettes or hookahs,” he said, IRNA reported.

“The figure does not mean that 25% of students are regular tobacco smokers, but that they have had the occasional experience,” he added, stressing that even if 10% continue on a regular basis, the scourge is no less alarming.

Masjedi, who is also a faculty member at Tehran’s prestigious Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences, called the increasing trend of tobacco use among the younger generation of boys as well as girls “disconcerting”, particularly the 12-15 age groups.

Noting that some quit smoking after the age of 30, he said the overall rate of tobacco use has not increased, but “the number of young adults and adolescents taking to smoking is increasing.”

He lamented the fact that the authorities have so far failed to identify legitimate centers that can sell tobacco products, or to enforce higher taxes on tobacco producers, or increase the prices of cigarettes -- a policy adopted in several countries to discourage the habit that is killing an increasing number of people and piling up billions in extra health cost on state treasuries.

The Ministry of Industries, Mines, and Trade was tasked long ago to introduce separate centers for sale of tobacco products and executive bodies were directed to follow up on the matter, but it has not come into effect yet.

 Tobacco Tax

“Cigarette prices have become cheaper by one-third over the past decade if we consider inflation, and are more easily accessible than they used to be. When prices of gas, bread, rice, and many other goods have shot up it’s a wonder why the authorities don’t raise tobacco prices,” he complained.

In Iran the tax on cigarettes is equivalent to a paltry 2% of the cost price, while preventive legislation in some countries suggests that 70% of cigarette prices should constitute taxes.

A proposal has been made to the Majlis (Parliament) to increase taxes on cigarettes, but the special commission involved “is opposed to the proposal submitted by the Health Ministry,” Khosrow Sadeqniat, head of the secretariat of Iran’s Tobacco Control Headquarters, said earlier this year.

The use of tobacco has remained the largest (preventable) cause of disease and premature death in the country.

“Around 65,000 people die of tobacco use in the country annually,” Sadeq-Niyat said, adding that 50 billion cigarettes worth $33.3 million are smoked every year in Iran by nearly 10 million people.

Further, around 30% of children below five years are exposed to tobacco smoke.

A mechanism that increases prices and imposes higher taxes is one of the core strategies of the World Health Organization to reduce the demand for tobacco. Many countries including France, Philippines and Turkey have successfully introduced stringent tobacco tax policies, an action that has reduced its use without leading to an increase in cigarette smuggling.

The WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control recommending big increases in cigarette tax to reduce consumption, reiterated by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, indicate that the proposal has scientific support, Masjedi said.