Big tobacco wants your youth’s lungs: the rise of smoking in Jordan

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New figures show that Jordan has surpassed Indonesia to have the highest smoking rates in the world. Including e-cigarettes and other “smokeless” products, more than eight in 10 Jordanian men are nicotine users, according to a 2019 national survey carried out in collaboration with the World Health Organization.

Smoking used to be endemic in wealthier countries such as the US, Australia and many in Europe. But decades of aggressive public health campaigns and restrictions on the ability of tobacco companies to advertise and lobby have succeeded in dramatically cutting their smoking rates.

Many of those corporate tactics have now migrated to countries in the Middle East and Africa, where regulations are more lax and poorly enforced, suggests Dr Raouf Alebshehy, a monitoring coordinator in the tobacco control research group at the University of Bath. The majority of the world’s smokers now live in middle- and lower-income countries.

Analysts suspect smoking rates may be just as high in countries such as Iraq, Lebanon and Syria – Jordan is just advanced and stable enough to be able to measure its problem.

“What makes the Middle East region special in terms of its smoking rates?” Alebshehy says. “It isn’t lack of information. It’s a closed case that tobacco is harmful. One of the important factors we have found in this region is that the multinational companies started to invest and expand here. They started to shift work from developed markets to emerging markets here and in Africa where tobacco demand is still growing, and they bought up local manufacturers.”

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