CAIRO: Because the youth are greatly affected by the media, tobacco companies in Egypt see this as fertile ground for attracting more and more smokers ever year, says an anti-smoking group.
In an attempt to combat the phenomenon, the Egyptian Network for Smoking Prevention and its founding organizations, including Sabeel El-Rashad and the Egyptian Medical Students’ Association, staged a conference last week titled “Smoke-free Media.
The conference held at El-Sawy Culture Wheel also brought together Egyptian actors such as Mahmoud Yassin and Mohamed Sobhy along with Sakia founder Mohamed El-Sawy.
“Most people in Egypt do not think that smoking can cause real problems, they believe that other factors contribute more to a deteriorated society, said Wael Safwat, head of the Egyptian Network for Smoking Prevention.
The media’s role
According to the head of the Doctors’ Syndicate Hamdy El-Sayyed, the number of smokers in Egypt increases by 7 percent each year, with the youth comprising most of that percentage.
El-Sayyed said that 20 percent of children in the 10-16 age bracket smoke, which can turn into addiction and expose them to diseases.
According to the group’s press statement, there are around 13 million smokers in Egypt, 500,000 of which are under 15 years old and 73,000 under the age of 10. Egyptians consume 80 billion cigarettes per year – 4 billion packs of cigarettes.
The conference addressed the media’s role in promoting the dangerous habit.
“We grew up watching films where doctors are smoking in the same room they are treating their patients, actor Mohamed Sobhy said.
However, according to a survey, the youth reject the direct correlation between watching someone smoke on TV and picking up the habit themselves.
Most of them said the decision to smoke is not influenced by any factor besides their own will.
On the other hand, psycho-analyst and chair of Sabeel El-Rashad Organization Nahla Amin stressed “that people behave the way celebrities do.
One of the girls surveyed said that looking at an actor smoking on TV stimulates her urge to smoke. “I like the way the actors look while smoking, she said.
“I do not like Mahmoud Abdel Aziz, but the way he smokes attracts me to watch his films, another boy answered in the survey.
Participants in the conference agreed that smoking is promoted in Egyptian cinema as a symbol of manhood and power, as well as a way to calm down nerves and anxiety.
They also noted that smoking is incorporated in scenes revolving around friendship. “Habituation is the reason behind widespread smoking, said Ayman Sebae, head of the Egyptian Medical Students Association. Smoking is taken for granted especially when people see a public figure smoke.
“If we do not have proper planning, we cannot then work together to bring a better Egypt, said Galal Zaki, CEO of advertising agency Perception Communication. He explained that governments and civil society should also be involved in combating the phenomenon; not only the media.
The conference calls for a “behavioral change in the Egyptian media. The media should redefine the values and attitudes associated with smoking in order to convey positive messages to the society.
“The media should ban tobacco and this will make a huge difference. Tobacco should not be treated as if it is something that is beneficial to society. said Sabae.
“We come together today to create media awareness, said Safwat.