CAIRO: Church goers and representatives of churches in different governorates around the country flocked to the St. Mark Center to attend a conference titled, “Tobacco, Bango and Hashish, Between Illusion and Reality.
The conference, organized by The Coptic Church and Bestlife, an organization combating addiction between July 8 and 11, was open to all. Attendees wanted to learn about the dangers of addiction in order to increase awareness of such issues in their local communities.
“The purpose of the conference is to increase awareness of the risks involved with these substances, given their widespread use, said Dr. Albert Edward Sedrak, consultant psychiatrists and director of the department of prevention and Training at Bestlife.
In addition to this annual conference, which is held for the fifth time this year, Bestlife is addressing the issues from several directions.
The organization trains volunteers and other selected members of the Church about drugs and their dangers in order to make a difference in their respective communities. It also teaches families about addiction and helps family members with drug problems.
Founded in 1990, funded by the Church under the supervision of Pope Shenouda III and directed by Dr. Nahed Fahim, Bestlife also offers outpatient clinics and rehabilitation centers.
At the conference, cigarettes were lumped in the category with marijuana (commonly known as bango) and hashish because they are “a gateway to other addictive substances, explained Sedrak.
Tobacco addiction is a rampant problem in Egypt and according to Dr. Mohamed Mehrez, director of the tobacco department at the ministry of health, the number of smokers has increased from 13 million in 1999 to an estimated 20 million today.
Mehrez sees the youth as the most important group to target. “These are the same people tobacco companies are targeting as they are the ones guaranteeing revenues for up to 40 years. Mehrez believes in raising awareness in schools and clubs where young people hang out.
For those already smoking, the ministry of health has established 35 clinics in six governorates and aims to increase this to 100 in the near future.
The next step for the government is to enforce the laws already established regarding no smoking areas in cinemas and metros, stopping advertisement of cigarettes entirely and making sure cigarettes are not sold to minors. While other countries have long since adopted high taxes on cigarettes, negotiations are underway between the ministers of finance and health about how much this price hike will be. Mehrez hopes for no less than 10 percent.
But smoking is just one step on the path of addiction. Sedrak sees the dangers of addiction threatening people of all ages and social classes. He says there are three factors that play a role in deciding people’s proneness to addiction: their personality in regard to passiveness and reluctance to say no; whether their job excessively exposes them to cigarettes; and their relation to religion.
Although in Egypt there are more religiously inclined people than in other countries where people smoke less, Sedrak claims that people here take the ritual side of religion rather than putting their heart into it.
The conference also covered the procedure to be taken if the person is already an addict.
Tobacco addiction can be overcome by gradual effort or in an abrupt stop, through which the addict endures the withdrawal symptoms.
For bango and hashish, other factors are in play such as the damage the drug has done to the addict’s personality. These stronger drugs may require respective addicts to stay at a hospital for the withdrawal phase and then attend a rehabilitation center.
Sedrak also explained how to talk to addicts. This includes convincing them of the dangers and practical benefits of stopping. He also advised to talk to them about the symptoms of addiction they are experiencing.