How Can Egyptians Smoke, Looking at This?

Old man smoking

A recent Ahram Online article quoted from the Egyptian minister of health, stating nearly a quarter of all Egyptians smoke, including 46 percent of adult males. This, he said, is one of the highest rates in the world.

But every time one of these Egyptians reaches to take a cigarette, one of these images stares him or her in the face:

Smoking Warning

The yellow bar advertises the local number to help quit smoking, warning it damages health and causes death. The images are more specific.

The old man: Smoking leads to senility and early impotence.

The child: Secondhand smoking afflicts children with lung disease and asthma.

The foot: Smoking causes gangrene of the foot.

The mouth: Smoking causes tongue cancer.

Here’s a larger image of the tongue:

Smoking Tongue

The campaign to label cigarette boxes is mandated by Egyptian participation in the UN’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Earlier images were much less graphic, though one still touched on impotence as a motivating threat.

Cigarette impotence

The yellow warning reads: Warning, smoking ruins heath and causes death. The harmful effects of smoking afflict both the smoker and non-smoker.

Well and good, but what is meant to capture the attention is this: Over a long period of time, smoking affects marital relations.

This image is directed to women:

Smoking Baby

The yellow warning is the same, but the specific message says: Being among smokers harms the pregnant woman’s fetus and causes miscarriage.

These kindlier messages have been placed on cigarette boxes since 2008. The scarier images since 2012.

I’m not sure how many Egyptians smoked six years ago, but surely more should call the advertised number: 16805


A Hint of Belonging

A few days ago I came across some interesting articles in the newspaper that had to do with statistics on smoking in Egypt. The next day there was an article on a government program to encourage removal of high polluting older model taxis with more recent, higher efficiency models. Tie the two together under the title of ‘Exhaust’ or something like that, and I figured there could be an interesting blog post.

Today at the office we were discussing the design of a revised editorial policy we wish to highlight for our electronic magazine. Arab West Report has an emphasis in presenting and analyzing articles from the Egyptian press, and occasionally elsewhere, which encourage greater understanding in the twin realms of Arab-West relations and Muslim-Christian relations. Within this discussion I wondered if the blog post mentioned above would ‘fit’ under our revised policy. After all, neither smoking nor taxis are essential matters for increased understanding in our world.

On the one hand I was interested to know my audience. A blog post can be very informal, whereas a report for our publication should be written more academically. On the other hand I wanted to know when I should write it. If it is a blog post I should write on my own time, whereas a report can be researched and composed during office hours. It was a tongue-in-cheek conversation, as there is plenty of overlap between the two categories, but it was also a useful discussion for the application of our policy.

Both the editor and I were trying to find ways to make it work, during which time I had an enlightening moment elucidating our efforts to belong to Egypt. Searching for an angle, I mentioned that an aspect of life in Cairo is that it is very polluted, which can negatively impact the reputation of Egypt abroad. “An article like this,” I said, “highlighting efforts to reduce pollution levels, could help them understand us better over here.”

I do not smoke, and I do not often ride in taxis. Yet for some reason the stream-of-consciousness dialogue produced the pronoun ‘us’ in identification with Egypt’s problems and a concern to represent her well. I recognized this immediately, and both laughed and marveled, which may suggest this sense of belonging is not yet fully ingrained. Only when we are oblivious will we truly belong. Still, it was a small hint that progress is being made.

Note: By the way, we have a baby coming soon, in all likelihood one week from today. Watch for updates, including a contest to guess the name. Next posting, I’ll give some hints…