President Bush is always being ridiculed for insisting that faith based organizations be given funding to combat HIV in Africa and drug use in the USA.

Yet health based behavioral changes are a lot more successful if the argument is based on people’s own value system. America’s elite tend to revere physical health, but this doesn’t always translate to other cultures, where “behala na” applies to sickness. I mean, why tell an African that he might die of lung cancer at age 60 when he’ll probably die before then of HIV, TB, or malaria?

So how does one combat the scourge of cigarette smoking, a habit that is not socially destructive like excess alcohol or promiscuity, but one that causes 4 million deaths a year world wide?

One answer for the WHO (World Health Organization) is to encourage non smoking in those who follow Islam: and one step to do this is to make the Hajj smoke free.

Tobacco products have been banned for sale in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina since 2002, and now those cities are entirely tobacco free.

African Path blog reports:

Huge billboard signs and posters with messages against smoking reads” Complete your hajj, complete your duty and advise others to stop smoking” and “Let the start of your hajj be the end of tobacco,” are installed all over Mina and Arafat….The Public Relation Officer of the Ministry of Health, Mr.Khaled AL-Marghalani, reminded pilgrims that hajj is the best time to stop smoking.

There have been several fatwas to discourage smoking based on health concerns.

A WHO paper explains:

Many of the principles of Islam call upon people to look after their health,to avoid health hazards and risks and to raise their standards of hygiene….The general consensus concerning the Islamic ruling was that smoking is either completely prohibited or abhorrent to such a degree as to be prohibited..

Anti Smoking initiatives are also being pushed elsewhere in Asia: Bollywood stars are promoting anti tobacco initiatives, and the SEA GAMES (SEAsia Games) were also Tobacco free.

Bans are less popular in Manila, where even most restaurants allow smoking. On the other hand, the high price of cigarettes make heavy smokers rare. Personally, I haven’t been bothered by the few smokers when I go out to eat.

Religions that stress healthy living, such as Islam, Christian Baptists and the LDS church, could be a great help to stop the use of tobacco in many countries. The Seventh Day Adventist church in the US has sponsored anti smoking clinics in many small American towns, for example.
However, one doubts that the much larger Catholic or Orthodox churches will soon ban tobacco under the pain of sin, although like alcohol, individual clerics will work with their parishoners to stop the habit.

I mean, when the founder admonished what goes into the mouth is not as important as what goes out of the mouth (i.e. food laws were not as important as hatred, envy, greed etc.) tobacco efforts for Catholis will probably have to remain on the level of good advice to stay healthy rather than morality.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her father and uncle died of cigarette related lung cancer.
Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket, and she posts medical essays to Hey Doc Xanga Blog.

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