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December 27th, 2015:

E-cig or cig, smoking is haraam: Scholars

The latest ‘in thing’ these days is the vaping craze in several countries since it was introduced about five years ago. However, Muslim scholars here have said that vaping and e-cigarettes are stringently prohibited in Islam due to its health implications and because they are a “waste of money”.

Dr Ali Ahmed Mashael, Chief Mufti at the Department of Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities in Dubai, told Khaleej Times that e-cigarettes are not only forbidden according to Islamic Sharia but are rather a “two-fold sin”.

“Vaping (inhaling and exhaling the vapour produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device) is as haraam (forbidden) as regular smoking owing to its harmful effects on the health of smokers and those around them.”

Warning, Dr Mashael said some companies are only interested in making money and disregard that these e-cigarettes can have any negative impact on people’s health as is the case with regular smoking which is haram in Islam.

“The same applies to such e-cigarettes which can be filled with liquids including nicotine, and other harmful substances.”

Some people claim that they resort to e-cigarette to give up regular ones, but that is not acceptable as well, he added. “One should give up smoking with a firm will seeking forgiveness from Almighty Allah for the sin he has been committing.”

Such shift from cigarettes to e-cigarettes is rarely helpful as it sometimes gives options which might be more harmful than regular cigarettes and shisha, Dr Mashael said. “Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) was reported as saying: ‘There should be neither harming nor reciprocating harm’, and that applies to vaping.”

Prominent scholar Shaikh Yusuf Ali said Muslims are also advised to never waste their money, and the Holy Quran states: ‘Spendthrift people are brothers to devils’.

“When Muslims are prohibited from eating or drinking too much halal (healthy and permissible) foods, how can they be allowed to consume anything harmful?”

Renowned scholar Dr Shaikh Mohammed Ashmawy said some people, mostly youngsters, believe that e-cigarette is halal or permissible and that has led to widespread use of electronic cigarettes.

“Vaping is worse than using tobacco, and specialists confirm that it is more detrimental to health than normal cigarettes,” he opined.

According to some media reports, last week Malaysia’s National Fatwa Council declared e-cigarettes and vaping forbidden (haraam) for Muslims in an attempt to ‘prevent an unhealthy culture from spreading to future generations’

Media reports quoted Dr Abdul Shukor Husin, chairman of the council, as saying that the decision followed careful consideration of health implications of vaping, indicating that the decision is in line with the opinions of several other Muslim countries including Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE.

How to give up smoking, according to a scholar

A scholar has said that one should give up smoking with a firm will seeking forgiveness from Almighty Allah for the sin he has been committing.

Ukrainian officials appear to be lobbying for tobacco industry to keep taxes low

Ukrainian officials appear to be lobbying on the side of the tobacco industry once again.

On Oct. 5, the Ministry of Finance proposed a 40 percent tax increase on cigarettes – bringing the price in line with inflation, like any other consumer product.

The parliamentary tax and customs committee, however, has countered the ministry’s proposal, arguing for a 20 percent increase – about half of the official inflation rate.

In other words, such a small increase will effectively make Ukraine’s cheap cigarettes even cheaper, which spurs smoking. Nearly 100,000 people die prematurely each year in Ukraine from smoking-related diseases.

The sharp currency devaluation – in which the Ukrainian hryvnia has lost two-thirds of its value in two years – has allowed lawmakers to promote a tax decrease as a tax hike.

In 2014, tobacco companies paid taxes of Hr 240 per 1,000 cigarettes and in 2015, this rose to Hr 300, according to a video released by industry expert Konstantin Krasovsky on Dec. 7.

The average exchange rate in 2014 was Hr 12/$1; thus far in 2015 it has been Hr 22/$1. This means the tax amounted to $20 per 1,000 cigarettes in 2014 compared with $13.6 in 2015.

Therefore, if the increase in 2016 is only 20 percent, $15.1 will be paid per 1,000 cigarettes at the current exchange rate of 23.75; for the 40 percent hike, the tax reaches $17.7 – raising the price of a cigarette pack by Hr 5 to Hr 8, or merely $0.21-$0.29.

Ukraine has some of the cheapest, lowest-taxed cigarettes in Europe, fueling illegal smuggling and contributing to higher smoking rates, poor health and early death.

Ukraine has some of the cheapest, lowest-taxed cigarettes in Europe, fueling illegal smuggling and contributing to higher smoking rates, poor health and early death.

“As a comparison, bread has seen a 70 percent price increase whereas cigarettes have only seen a 20 percent price increase. Therefore cigarettes have become more affordable,” said Andrey Skipalskyi, president of the Ukrainian Center for Tobacco Control. “A 40 percent (tax increase) is already a compromise and doesn’t include the real price increase.”

In his video, Krasovsky argues that if the excise tax increases by 40 percent, annual revenues to the state budget will increase by Hr 7 billion – a figure he based on a 10 percent decline in the number of smokers. But if parliament decides on a 20 percent increase, the budget will receive Hr 4 billion, a figure which relies on demand remaining the same.

The tobacco industry is famous for its underhanded lobbying tactics.

One of the difficulties for anti-tobacco groups is that there is no definition of lobbying in Ukrainian law.

“You can’t track the money or the members of parliament being paid…So what we do is monitor their statements and if someone is overtly pro-tobacco we shame them by calling them tobacco lobbyists,” said Skipalskyi.

According to Skipalskyi, the tobacco companies in Ukraine in recent years have fought hard against any increases in taxation. Higher taxes on cigarettes have been proven to be very effective in getting smokers to quit and preventing people from even starting.

Skipalskyi said the tobacco industry is on good terms with parliament’s tax committee head, Nina Yuzhanina, a member of the Bloc of President Petro Poroshenko, who defends her position as “pro-business,” according to Krasovsky and Roman Nasirov, her predecessor who is now head of State Fiscal Services.

Nasirov has argued against sharp tax increases on cigarettes , saying they will exacerbate Ukraine’s problem with illicit trade. But anti-tobacco groups accuse Nasirov and other officials of using this as an excuse.

“Every year they keep repeating the same mantra that it would increase illicit trade…It’s very important to separate illicit trade and tax policy. It’s up to the customs officials to police illicit trade on both sides. In Ukraine and in Poland,” said Skipalskyi.

Likewise Krasovsky pointed out that the problem with illicit trade is with cigarettes manufactured in Ukraine, not cigarettes coming from abroad.

An investigation conducted by investigative journalist Vlad Lavrov in 2009 asserted that the cigarette manufacturers in Ukraine are complicit in the illicit trade – estimated to be worth $2.1 billion a year. The investigation found that manufacturers produce a 30 billion cigarette surplus because of the country’s cheap production costs, which they then sell to smugglers at the same price as to a legal wholesaler.

Skipalskyi told the Kyiv Post that only the introduction of expensive tracking systems would allow customs officials to trace cigarettes back to a particular factory.

Japanese Tobacco Incorporated, Philip Morris and British American Tobacco, three of the four biggest manufacturers in Ukraine, said they only sold to licensed distributors.

The Ukrainian budget has benefitted significantly from tax increases on cigarettes. Between 2008 and 2015, the tax on cigarettes increased almost 10 times — from Hr 29 to Hr 300 – and state revenue increased from Hr 3.6 million to Hr 18.1 million.

Besides the revenue boost, higher cigarette taxes improve public health. As prices rose, according to Ukrainian State Statistic Service, the number of smokers in Ukraine decreased from 10.1 to 7.7 million people.

Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko agrees. In a statement on Dec. 8, Jaresko told reporters:

“The question of tax increases is painful one. However, from the point of view of the country’s health, I can’t not talk about it, because in every country excise tax policy is considered together with the health policy of the country. Because money from our budget also goes to health care,” said Jaresko.

This is a big step according to Skipalskyi: “Before Jaresko, I had never heard a minister view taxes in terms of health benefits.”

Krasovsky, a veteran anti-tobacco activist, said the government’s position is more important than that of parliament committees when lawmakers vote. Tobacco companies are producing more now in anticipation that the tax will go up next year, Krasovsky said, so Ukraine’s state budget won’t see benefits right away.

While Japan Tobacco International did not comment, Philip Morris and British American Tobacco said that tax increases should be gradual and take consumer income into account.

Tobacco companies outspend government in contest to addict smokers

This giant gap is undermining efforts to save lives and health care dollars by reducing tobacco use, the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, the report warns.

In fiscal year 2016, the states will collect $25.8 billion from the 1998 tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes. But they have budgeted less than two percent of it – $468 million – for tobacco prevention and cessation programs, according to the annual report assessing state funding of such programs.

In contrast, the major cigarette and smokeless tobacco companies spend $9.6 billion a year – more than one million dollars each hour – on marketing, according to the most recent data from the Federal Trade Commission. This amounts to 20 times what the states spend on tobacco prevention.

Tobacco use kills more than 480,000 Americans and costs the nation about $170 billion in health care spending each year. Without strong action now, 5.6 million kids alive today will die prematurely from smoking-caused disease, according to the U.S. Surgeon General.

Garden State politicians squandered all the money due from a national settlement with tobacco companies, using bond deals to suck dry future revenues, so the latest budget from Republican Gov. Chris Christie includes nothing for nicotine prevention.

New Jersey has $4 billion in health care expenses directly caused by smoking but no money is allocated to combat tobacco use in the state’s 2016 budget although $186.8 million was estimated to have been spent in the state on tobacco company marketing in 2012.

Almost 16 percent of adults in New Jersey are smokers and nearly 12,000 deaths result from smoking in the Garden State each year, but this is worst in the nation for state spending on tobacco prevention.

Nicotine, the drug in tobacco, is highly addictive, while tar and other substances consumed when the product is smoked have been conclusively shown to cause cancer and equally devastating diseases.

New Jersey decided to bail out some of its tobacco debt in an arrangement that helped one investor cash in even though the state was under no obligation to rescue the bonds.

Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff traded away an estimated $400 million in future tobacco revenues that would have flowed into New Jersey coffers starting in 2017 in order to make good on two bond issues that were headed for default because it allowed the Christie administration to patch a $92 million budget hole.

“Kids are still taking up smoking and we’re still losing lives,” said Marc Kaplan, communications director of American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network eastern division. “We’re thinking about the families who see their relatives lose their lives or suffer from smoking.”

Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, a national non-profit organization, released its annual Broken Promises to Our Children report Tuesday. The report looked at each state’s 2016 fiscal year budgets and projected state revenue from tobacco sales tax and 1998 tobacco settlement.

Every year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends an amount that each state should put toward tobacco prevention efforts. For New Jersey, that recommendation was $103.3 million.

The state has allocated zero dollars for such efforts in the 2016 budget. Estimated state tobacco revenue from the tobacco settlement and state taxes is $921 million.

“The fact that New Jersey isn’t spending one penny in tobacco control and prevention is tragic,” Kaplan said. “One reason why we’re involved with this report is so our leaders can see this—hard and cold facts that are showing this.”

New Jersey Department of Health spokesperson Donna Leusner says there are still programs funded by the federal government that prevent or stop smoking.

They include the toll free NJ Quitline that offers gum and patches, Tobacco Age of Sale program, and Mom’s Quit Connection, which links pregnant women and new mothers with quit smoking specialists.

“The Department of Health strongly encourages everyone to quit smoking and there are many ways to do that including medication, patches, gum and counseling,” said Leusner.