Tobacco Companies have received the mandatory from The Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA) and the Ministry of Commerce to disclose ingredients of their cigarettes before and after their packaging. The new mandate was issued due to the recently circulated reports regarding some tobacco products which ha variations in their components after the introduction of the new ordinary packaging and change in flavor observed by consumers.
In addition to emission components and clarifications with regard to the reasons for changing the flavor, the mandatory also seeks further details, including the source of tobacco material for the cigarettes, rolling paper and filters used, as well as the place of manufacture and packaging before exporting to the Kingdom.
The companies are also obliged by SFDA and the ministry to conduct taste tests and disclose them to all consumers. The deadline for disclosure is set to be in mid-December, with the need to answer consumer inquiries that were being monitored after receiving tip-offs through social media.
SFDA and the ministry underlined the great interest in the observations, inquiries, and complaints lodged by consumers about tobacco products by all concerned parties. They notified that strict punitive measures shall be taken in the case of any manipulations that were proven with regard to the approved components or flavor and also the quality of the products.
In closer collaboration with the WHO regional office for the Eastern Mediterranean and in line with WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, SFDA also informed manufacturers and importers of tobacco products to apply plain packaging on all forms of tobacco products. The tobacco package will only display brand and product names in a standard color and font style without using logos, brand images, colors or promotional information.
This groundbreaking step for tobacco control is considered as one of the most effective public health interventions for reducing the demand for tobacco. Moreover, the plain packaging is projected to influence the intention of smokers to quit, reduce the attractiveness of tobacco products, increase the effectiveness of health warnings, as well as to limit misleading packaging and labeling.
Saudi Arabia was among the first countries to ratify the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control back in 2005. It is an ambitious plan to reduce smoking rates from 12.7% to 5% by 2030. The Health Ministry has also taken several steps to restraint smoking through awareness campaigns as well as cessation clinics. The Kingdom also doubled taxes on cigarettes in 2017, leading to a 213% increase in smokers seeking help to kick the habit in the months that followed.
Furthermore, the Cabinet also approved a new licensing regulation which gives directive for cafes and restaurants in Saudi Arabia to pay up to SR 100,000 a year to sell tobacco products inside and outside their premises.
Studies have consistently shown that one of the most powerful tools to motivate and help existing tobacco users to quit by creating smoke-free areas while preventing new smokers from picking up the habit. The new SR 100,000 annual fee for Saudi cafes and restaurants to permit patrons for smoke is seen to be more important, despite the fact that raising cigarette taxes is a proven strategy for reducing smoking in the Kingdom.
Following the new direction, many restaurants may not be able to afford to pay for the expensive permit, so it is projected that there will be less smoking in cafes and restaurants. There will be fewer people at risk of being passive smokers and existing smokers would have a compelling new incentive to quit.