Female smokers start earlier than men, says Ministry of Health-WHO survey
December 11, 2018 | 9:56 PM
by Times News Service
Cigarette use among women was far lower than men, at just 2.1 cigarettes per day. -File photo

Muscat: Women in Oman start smoking three years before men do, a new survey from the Ministry of Health has found.

The National Survey on Non Communicable Diseases, which was organised by the ministry in collaboration with the World Health Organisation, also detailed how smokers in Oman consume nearly 10 cigarettes a day.

The National Survey on Non Communicable Diseases was organised by the ministry, in collaboration with the World Health Organisation.

Data showed that, overall, those who used tobacco in Oman smoked 9.1 cigarettes a day, with men smoking 9.2 cigarettes a day, while most of them started at the age of 21. However, women began smoking earlier, with many of them trying their first cigarette at the age of 18, although their cigarette use was far lower, at just 2.1 cigarettes per day.

Organised as part of Oman’s Health Vision 2050, the data also showed that just 0.9 per cent of those surveyed had drunk alcohol in the past 12 months, and only 1.6 per cent of respondents drank in the past month. On average, those who did drink alcohol in Oman consumed about 3.3 drinks on a single occasion. Across Oman, only 3.5 per cent of the entire population consumed alcohol.

Doctors in Oman said that excessive smoking and alcohol consumption would lead to dangerous long-term health conditions. Data further showed that, on average, eight per cent of people in Oman smoked. Also on average, 15.1 per cent of men were smokers, while only 0.4 per cent of women used cigarettes. Six percent of Omanis had developed a smoking habit, while more than double that number – 13.4 per cent - of expats also smoked.

“Smoking is a risk factor for most of the diseases,” said Dr Francy Pulikkan, an internist at Burjeel Hospital. “Most people don’t understand that smoking is a cause for heart attacks among the young. Many people who have heart attacks at a young age are smokers. Everyone knows that smoking also causes lung cancer. As people continue to smoke, they develop COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), and this is a really bad disease because, ultimately, the patient is unable to walk and will have difficulty breathing.

“They will be confined to bed,” he added. “All forms of cancer, such as stomach cancer and intestinal cancer, their propensity increases with smoking. Smokers are also very prone to developing spinal disc diseases and injuries. The risk of stroke is increased in smoking, and even if none of these serious things happen, smokers are invariably prone to infections, because smoking reduces the immunity and causes more respiratory diseases. “This won’t just affect them, but their family members, as well, because others are also inhaling the same smoke,” added Pulikkan. “Alcohol primarily harms the liver, and once the liver is harmed, you cannot get it back. Other things include decreased memory, lack of social functioning, early dementia, and alcohol dependence, which is obviously one of the biggest problems, because that causes several problems at social, personal and professional levels. Consuming alcohol in increased amounts also causes excessive damage to the heart.”

When it comes to alcohol consumption, only 0.4 per cent of Omanis and 4.8 per cent of non-Omanis were found to drink alcohol. The number stood at 2.5 per cent for men, and just 0.6 per cent for women. Dr Vijay Ram Naresh, a psychiatrist at Aster Medical, said that a lot of the times, peer pressure played a very large role in drawing people to intoxicants.

“If we were to observe one’s social behaviour, we can see that peer pressure is a big cause encouraging smoking,” he told Times of Oman. “The main thing here is that people want to belong. Let’s say, for example, there are five people in this group, and you are not as accepted in the group as they are. How would you want to become more like them? The best way is to take up the habits that they are following, because the key is you want acceptance and approval, because this becomes an easy way to find that.”

He added, “When you talk about smoking, this is behaviour that comes out, in terms of external adjustments, because you see the stars smoking, the media sometimes glorifies smoking, as well as peer pressure, so this is a very relevant and pertinent causation when it comes to smoking. Initial exposure towards alcohol can also be guided by this. Long-term alcohol consumption is not only affected by peer pressure, though.”

“This is not a one-time process,” said Naresh. “You are rejected, then accepted, over and over again, before you start to weigh the pros and cons, and then you gradually succumb. Once you start, the biological processes start kicking in, and then you have dependence on these things. You must understand that people who do these things are trying to balance some inner need, and external substances will not help. They have to work on these things from within.”

The survey was conducted among 9053 adults, of which 6833 responded, resulting in a total response rate of 75.5 per cent. It compiled physical measurements, such as height, weight and blood measurements, as well as biochemical markers, such as blood glucose and cholesterol.

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